Updated: Money, antiques and prince

9 07 2012

This will not be a public story in Thailand because of the fear journalists have about lese majeste. That’s even when the story is just about a bit of overseas shopping by the eldest son of the Thai king and heir apparent.

Both the The Telegraph and a local website in Hampshire, England, have stories of a small buying spree by Prince Vajiralongkorn and his consort. And his request for cream tea.

The White Lion Antique Centre in Hartley Wintney was closed to the public as Vajiralongkorn and Srirasmi had their scones and bought a bit of the store’s inventory. The story states the couple bought  “300 items of bone china.” That’s be just a bit of change for the scion of the world’s richest monarchy.

Apparently, the “prince and his staff had flown into nearby Farnborough in a private 737 jet on June 20 for a holiday in the UK and had chosen the shop because it also served his favourite scones, strawberry jam and cream teas.”

Of course, it remains to be confirmed that the 737 is a “private” plane. Whatever happened to that German story? Our posts on that kerfuffle began with this post on 13 July 2011 and continued almost daily (here, here, here, here, here and here). Then there were other posts (here and here) that came to an end around 10 August 2010.

The shop’s owner, Mahoney said: ” It was a great honour to have him visit us…. It is a massive thing to have someone from a royal family visit a little provincial shop like ours. They seemed very pleased with what they bought.”

The Telegraph adds that the prince:

has a reputation for living a playboy lifestyle. He was at the centre of a scandal in 2009 when an Australian TV channel obtained a video of a lavish birthday party he had thrown for his miniature poodle Foo Foo, at which Princess Srirasmi appeared wearing little more than a G-string.

From This is Hampshire

At the website This is Hampshire, the story is much the same, noting that the royal couple had “an entourage of more than 30 … and spent several thousands of pounds during a four-hour stay.” It adds that he “arrived in a Mercedes with his wife, the Princess Consort Srirasmi, along with Ambassador of Thailand, Kitti Wasinondh.” Private holiday or official visit, the flunkies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to slither about.

It adds that it was Vajiralongkorn who “requested The White Lion Antiques Centre shut to the public on June 20 so he could have the space entirely to himself.” The report states that the prince “had around 15 security guards who arrived beforehand.”

Apparently the 300 items of fine china were “to add to their collection…”. As one PPT reader stated, “This is the sufficiency economy in the 21st century.” In fact, as the royalists will tell us, the prince can afford a bit of crockery, so this is “sufficiency.” Just spending a bit of loose change.

Update: A reader points out that the prince’s visit coincides with the Farnborough Air Show, where:

Sikorsky today announced that the Royal Thai Army has signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) to acquire two UH-60M BLACK HAWK helicopters through the United States Government’s Foreign Military Sales channel. Upon delivery, Thailand will become the first member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fly the very latest version of the BLACK HAWK helicopter operated by the U.S. Army.





Prince in Germany

12 02 2012

Readers will recall Prince Vajiralongkorn’s troubles in 2011 when what was claimed to be his personal plane – a Boeing 737 no less – gifted to him by the Thai state, was seized in Germany.

Our posts on that event began with this post on 13 July and continued almost daily (here, here, here, here, here and here). Then there were other posts (here and here) that came to an end around 10 August.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has just published a story and commentary based on a local German news story of the prince’s recent visit to Germany, apparently to shop and renew a pilot’s license. The full story is at Marshall’s blog, so PPT just reproduces some choice items.

The prince and his wife (Marshall asks which one?) at the Mövenpick Hotel in the town of Braunschweig. Apparently the prince was extending his pilot’s license at the German Federal Aviation Office (Luftfahrt Bundesamt).

The Mövenpick is not hugely expensive, with suites at about 200 Euros a night, although it is reported that the prince was “accompanied by an entourage of 60 people, servants and bodyguards — and a dog.” The report states that

Weeks before the arrival, a delegation from the Royal Palace visited the hotel incognito…. They made bookings for more than 30 rooms and suites but it was only a few days before arrival when he was actually informed about the identity of his VIP guests….

That probably means about 3500-4000 Euros a night.

It is added that:

… the first group of staff arrived from Berlin. Dozens of cases were transported in a truck to Brunswick and unloaded. One hotel room was completely cleared for the purpose of establishing their own kitchen, providing the many employees, servants and security officials with Thai specialties, but the royal couple had mostly chosen food from the hotel kitchen during their stay.

The royals and their entourage were seen shopping

in Hannover, in the Outlet Center of Wolfsburg — and in Braunschweig city center. At Art & Deco Shop in Welfenhof the Princess bought 15 high-quality porcelain figurines, and about ten bodyguards were closely watching inside and in front of the store….

 





The monarchy’s wealth (denied, again)

12 09 2011

A letter to the New York Times proves the strength of the royalist desire to “protect” a monarchy. A month after the original article, prompted by the seizure of a Boeing 737 in Munich, Arjaree Sriratanaban, Minister Counselor at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. has responded in a remarkable statement that is obviously disingenuous.

The original article, by Thomas Fuller, used the seizing of the plane – which the then Abhisit Vejjajiva government claimed “belonged” to Prince Vajiralongkorn, raised questions regarding the remarkably opaque nature of royal finances and financing.

Arjaree claims ” the Thai side considered this impoundment a grave error based upon a misunderstanding that the aircraft is an asset of the Thai government and not privately owned by the crown prince.” In simple terms, the plane is the prince’s personal property. That is somehow transitioned from a state asset to a private asset is not addressed.

The letter then turns to “[t]he notion” that the “king of Thailand is the world’s richest monarch.” It states that this “needs to be reassessed.” Why?

Simply because Forbes magazine’s calculation of the world’s richest royals “included assets belonging to the Crown Property Bureau that are held in trust for the nation and not at the king’s personal disposal.”

The letter claims:

it should also be noted that Thailand’s 1948 Crown Property Bureau Act provides the legal framework for clearly differentiating the Crown Property Bureau’s assets from the personal properties of the reigning monarch. It is the duty of the C.P.B. under this act to administer the assets under its board of directors chaired ex officio by the minister of finance. Most importantly, the C.P.B. has been striving for a balance between the financial and social outcomes of its activities to benefit all of its stakeholders, letting out much of its property with rents below market levels.

This is simply a repetition of palace propaganda. PPT realizes that even having to trot this propaganda out must give the CPB officials heartburn. After all, it is only since the 2006 coup that there has been wider public attention to royal wealth. For another claim that “the king is not rich,” see here.

As we noted in our earlier post:

… the lack of transparency and control of the CPB by the monarch is associated with the current reign. The opaque management and operation of the CPB is becoming a serious issue, and it scares those who manage the CPB so much that they have taken baby steps to trying to appear more transparent. As Fuller says, “Much remains unknown about the bureau’s assets.” In fact, his statement is weak; almost nothing significant is known.

He notes that, in 2008, Forbes magazine “ranked the Thai king as the world’s richest royal, the Thai government strongly protested, saying the magazine had conflated the king’s personal wealth with assets managed by the bureau.” As others have pointed out, this is a nonsensical response. Only the crown controls the CPB and no recent government has ever sought to change this situation.

Fuller adds that income from the CPB “is separate from the approximately $350 million in taxpayer money allocated for the royal household, royal-led development projects and other expenses related to the royal family.

There is sufficient academic and other commentary on the CPB to prove the inaccuracy of the propaganda. In another post, PPT referred to lese majeste defendant Somsak Jeamteerasakul who reacted to the Crown Property Bureau’s first public annual report. The original post was at Prachatai. We said:

This is a long post and worth reading in full. In short, Somsak takes up the CPB’s claim that “Crown property is state property and public property, for which the government through the Minister of Finance as the Chairperson is responsible, and which the CPB takes care of.”

Somsak says this “statement is not true, de jure and de facto.” He later concludes, following a listing of legal interpretations, that “the 2010 CPB Annual Report is an attempt to distort…”, adding: “That crown property and the Crown Property Bureau fall under the exclusive oversight of the King (and are accountable to no one else) is a fact known for a long time in all sectors, business or government, and even in public. It is therefore incredible that the 2010 CPB Annual Report tries to distort the fact by saying that CPB is under the ‘responsibility’ of the government.”

Of course, as Somsak points out, this CPB sleight of hand is to deflect attention away from the vast wealth controlled by the monarch and to obscure the fact that in most modern monarchies, crown property is state property. In Thailand, it is the king’s property. PPT might add that this is a politically-motivated statement, seeking to deflect the criticism that is made of this obscenely rich royal family.

PPT would add that the Arjaree’s comment on what is “Most important…” – its low rents, is right out of the palace’s playbook. The problem is that it doesn’t even match what the CPB itself states in its Annual Report: ”

2) Rent Rationalization – contract renewals for most tenants take place every three years; the CPB takes this opportunity to adjust rents so that they are aligned with others in the same community but always after carefully considering tenants’ capacity to pay.

And here is what academic Porphant Ouyyanont says in his Journal of Contemporary Asia article in 2008:

To manage its landed properties, CPB set up another new entity called CPB Property Company (Wang Sinsup in Thai) in 2000. Again new executives were hired, headed by Yos Euarchukiati, member of a prominent banking and industrial family, and including people with experience in finance and real estate….

The management of the CPB’s property portfolio was also restructured and reorientated to become more commercial and aggressive. The initial aim was simply to increase the cashflow as rapidly as possible. Private tenancies were renegotiated on an individual basis and, shortly after the [1997-98] crisis….

Porphant shows how rents were increased substantially, for almost all kinds of property, following the economic crisis. For a time, income from property was higher than the usual giants of the CPB portfolio, the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank.

Arjaree Sriratanaban has acted several times as MFA mouthpiece. As examples, see the letter to the Bangkok Post in 2010 and a statement in The Nation in 2006. It may seem remarkable that Thai officials are willing to put their names to letters that are obviously full of misleading information and falsehoods, but that seems to be Arjaree’s task.





Further updated: Got it!

10 08 2011

Just as he was sent out the door, defeated Democrat Party leader (re-elected) and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that a Boeing 737 the Thai government claims to have gifted to Prince Vajiralongkorn for his regular and personal jaunts to Europe has been released from a court-ordered impounding in Germany.

AP reports that the aircraft “has been released after payment of a guarantee in a business dispute. Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Thai government posted the bond pending resolution of a claim by German company Walter Bau AG related to construction of a tollway in Bangkok more than 20 years ago.”

A German court ruled that the plane could be released after “the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.” The release was confirmed by German authorities.

The Democrat Party must be secretly pleased that it managed this release and – in their view – maintained a distance between Thaksin Shinawatra and the prince.

Update 1:  A reader chastises us for neglecting to mention that Abhisit had earlier emphatically stated that there would be no government guarantee. Good point, but then this just adds to the extensive list of Abhisit’s untruths.

Update 2: Saksith Saiyasombut at Asian Correspondent has an excellent account of this event.





Updated: The monarchy and American Christians

5 08 2011

A story in The Philadelphia Trumpet a week or so ago raises interesting issues regarding the monarchy at TheTrumpet.com.

We hear readers asking, “The what?” The Trumpet is a free “news magazine” published by the Philadelphia Church of God. It has been published since 1990, with 10 issues a year.

As the website puts it:

The Trumpet seeks to show how current events are fulfilling the biblically prophesied description of the prevailing state of affairs just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The Trumpet claims that it has a critical position:

The Trumpet has a long history of accurate forecasting of major global events based on this predictive model, tracing back to the beginnings of the Plain Truth magazine in 1934 under the direction of Herbert W. Armstrong. To explore these forecasts, read our booklet, called “He Was Right!—Remembering five decades of accurate forecasting by Herbert W. Armstrong.”

Armstrong was a former advertising executive who built his church as a big business. Why should such a curiously American business-religion have any interest in Thailand and its monarchy? The answer lies in the claimed personal relationship between the king and queen of Thailand and the above-mentioned Armstrong.

The story in the news magazine is worth outlining. It mentions Prince Vajiralongkorn’s Boeing 737 problems and “the tensions within Thailand that have rocked this once relatively peaceful Southeast Asian nation in recent times.” The recent election is acknowledged, as is the election of Yingluck Shinawatra. It is even said that

Her landslide victory is seen as a powerful endorsement of the protesters who clashed with police last year in efforts to force a change of government.

Well, it was mainly the Army, but the picture is clear enough. Oddly, all of this is seen as a victory for the king! But problems are noted: “The 84-year-old monarch, King Bhumibol, has thus, once again, successfully navigated rough political waters…”. The article mentions concerns about succession and the

apparent relative unpopularity of the crown prince as compared to his highly popular parents. One Asian source stated that “Vajiralongkorn, the crown prince, is regarded as erratic and virtually incapable of ruling” (Asia Sentinel, April 1, 2010). The Economist observed, “Behind the present unrest in Thailand lie far deeper fears about the royal succession. … Prince Vajiralongkorn is already widely loathed and feared. Most Thais try not even to think about his accession” (March 18, 2010).

The article uses this information to turn to the story of the king and Armstrong. It begins with the legend of the king and queen as “serving” the people:

Through the years the king has established many friendships internationally and worked with his wife, Queen Sirikit, in overtly and humbly serving the people of Thailand.

Armstrong is said to have been “an unofficial ambassador for world peace, the late Herbert W. Armstrong, developed a close friendship with the king and queen of Thailand.” The story continues:

Beginning in 1971, the Ambassador [International Cultural] Foundation, of which Mr. Armstrong was founder and president, aided Thailand with successful humanitarian projects in the country’s hillsides in an effort to replace the hill people’s dependence on the opium poppy with a more profitable and less destructive crop.

The Ambassador Foundation, according to its website, “provides opportunities for individuals and businesses to exercise Biblical stewardship through the support of ministries that advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

First, note that the foundation has an earlier history than claimed (see this rather iconoclastic anti-church account). How did a nutty Christian evangelist business get in with supposedly Buddhist royals in Thailand? The article explains:

During a visit in 1984, Mr. Armstrong traveled with the queen to a remote settlement near the Thai-Burma border. She was able to show him the advancements made from the settlement’s backward and unsettled existence to a more prosperous and stabilized standard of living under encouragement by the royal couple. Mr. Armstrong would later commission the Ambassador Foundation’s media department to produce a 60-minute video documentary titled More Than a Monarch, which recounted the king and queen’s passionate dedication to the service of their people.

In response,

the Thai royal family honored Mr. Armstrong with decorations in recognition of and appreciation for his service to the people of Thailand and of his long friendship with its king and queen. Most notable of these awards was when in 1985 the king honored him with the Ratanaporn Class ii royal medal.

So close was the relationship, that in 1985, Queen Sirikit

accepted an invitation to visit and tour the beautiful Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. While there she attended various banquets and receptions specially convened in her honor where both local and state dignitaries were present.

As Wikipedia explains (with some links maintained), Ambassador College

was a four-year, liberal arts college run by the Worldwide Church of God. The college was established in 1947 in Pasadena, California by radio evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong, leader of what was then the Radio Church of God, later renamed the Worldwide Church of God. The college was approved by the State of California to grant degrees, but was only regionally accredited at the time. In 1960 a second campus was opened at Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire, England, and in 1964 a third campus was opened in Big Sandy, Texas. At the time Ambassador closed for financial reasons in May 1997 it had operated for 50 years….

During her visit to the college, the queen claimed, “So I think Mr. Armstrong and my husband have the same goal, the common goal—harmony, world harmony and better understanding between people all over the world.”

The article claims that the queen arranged “the largest collection of ancient and modern Thai artifacts ever displayed internationally… in the lobby of Ambassador’s Hall of Administration” at Armstrong’s invitation.

The queen, who visited for six days,  stated:

I am very happy today to visit the home base of Mr. Armstrong … a gentleman whom I consider to be my true personal friend as well as a friend of all men of goodwill in this world. Because of his wisdom, far-sightedness and humanitarian heart he knows it is meaningless to talk about security, democracy and international cooperation when a large number of people still hardly have enough to keep body and soul together. I know that his financial aid to various projects has been extremely generous, but I think that he is most appreciated because of the spiritual impact he makes. To those who meet him he is the symbol of the warmhearted citizen of the advanced countries who is willing to understand, give encouragement and give a helping hand when needed.

The article adds that this was an “enduring friendship” between the king and queen and Armstrong, continued until his death in 1986.

Armstrong remembered Thailand’s first lady in his final book, Mystery of the Ages, where he wrote,

A royal queen on a recent six-day visit to the headquarters campus in Pasadena, California, on touring the campus, exclaimed, ‘I have just been in heaven.’ … These campuses are an example of what mankind should have done, and a modest foretaste of the beauty that will blossom forth over the whole Earth after Christ and His saints in His Kingdom are ruling the Earth in the wonderful World Tomorrow.

The article asserts that Armstrong had an impact of the royals:

the Thai royal couple shared a deep appreciation for the message emanating from this white-haired patriarch, a message of outflowing love and concern for the good and welfare of others. In fact, the way of life governed by God’s immutable and unchangeable law of love (1 John 5:3).

The article adds further information on the relationship:

Since 1946 Thailand has benefited immeasurably and invaluably from the sacrifice and service of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. For 15 years the enduring friendship they had with that ambassador for world peace, Herbert Armstrong, gave them a powerful witness by word and deed of the gospel of the good news of the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:14).

It warns that any change to “in Thailand’s constitutional monarchy may result in the loss of any residual impact of that legacy within its royal family and hence to the stability of that nation.”

The Worldwide Church of God has undergone many changes – see here – but still claims a link to the Thai monarchy. At the same time, members of royal family have a long history of relationships with various Christian sects. The queen and Princess Chulabhorn were attracted by Mormons. As many evangelical Americans do, Chulabhorn has claimed a special bond with Israel.

These linkages seem strange but are consistent over several decades. Do any readers have further observations?

Update: A reader sends these links on Armstrong and his church: http://silenced.co/ andhttp://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Cults/armstrong.htm





Updated: Government refuses prince’s cash

4 08 2011

PPT is a bit late on this post, but it is still worth commenting on some of outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s last royalist maneuvers.The government has refused the Prince Vajiralongkorn’s offer of money as a bond for “his” Boeing 737.

This decision, reported in The Nation, seems odd for a last-day government until the role of Thaksin Shinawatra is considered. PPT reckons that many in the Democrat Party believe that Thaksin is behind the offer to pay.

The government has said it will “instead quickly seek other avenues to resolve the dispute and maintain good relations with Berlin while preserving the dignity of the Thai monarchy.”

Abhisit stated: “So far, the Crown Prince has not yet given his personal assets to settle the case but he expressed his intention to do so and the government has informed him that we would do it our own way first…”. Abhisit made the comment after an “audience” with the prince.

Abhisit said that the Office of the Attorney-General would send a team to Berlin today for a week to find a solution…”. So what have they been doing to date? Rambling and making things up? Abhisit said that there would be no deposit guarantee to retrieve the jet.

Update: Readers will find this German account of the prince and his plane useful.





With 3 updates: Prince pays

1 08 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that Prince Vajiralongkorn “will use his personal funds to secure the release of his 737 aircraft that was impounded at Munich airport on July 12…”. That means the prince is claiming to be putting up 20 million euros (or about 846 million baht) as a “security bond for the return of the Boeing 737” which the Thai government claims is the prince’s personal property.

The prince stated that he “hoped the payment of the bond would help end the legal dispute between the Thai government and German construction company Walter Bau AG over revenue sharing from toll fees on the Don Muang Tollway.” He added, in a letter reproduced by the Post (but too small for PPT to read – see update below), that he “did not wish to be involved in the dispute, and wanted it to be settled quickly and smoothly…”.

The statement released by his Secretariat said the prince “wanted to show benevolence to his country, and did not want the dispute to affect the cordial relations between Thailand and Germany.”

PPT imagines that this decision will raise even more questions. The rumor mill will be running hot. One question will be about the source of the “personal” funds. Many will believe that the government has really paid. Others will soon be claiming that Thaksin Shinawatra has paid.

PPT wonders about the reason for deciding to pay now, after earlier saying that no bond should be paid. Is it just that the prince has bags of money laying about and he doesn’t like his other 737 as much as the seized one?

More seriously, we wonder if the prince, his advisers and the government have finally realized the folly of the claims they have been making? Have they also recognized the disastrously negative PR impact the episode has had for the monarchy, raising questions about state and personal property that they’d rather not have asked? Will this belated effort take such questions off the table?

Update 1: PPT just found a better copy of the prince’s letter, here. See Bangkok Pundit’s guarded comments here. PPT will have more once we have had a chance to read the letter in detail.

Update 2: In fact, there is not much more to add after reading the letter. The prince makes it clear that his move was made so that the the damage to him can be limited. As The Nation puts it, the prince “did not wish his name to be involved any longer in the dispute as it tarnished his honour.” He was concerned by the negative domestic and international media coverage.

Update 3: PPT highly recommends Bangkok Pundit’s post that tries to make sense of brief reports concerning a meeting between Abhisit and the prince, the bond and a claim that the government is also about to pay a bond. In fact, PPT can see no reason why the state would pay a bond if the prince has already paid one. Reader’s comments by email are welcomed.