The junta, the temple, tycoons and Thaksin

19 05 2017

The Bangkok Post has had a series of stories on Anant Asavabhokhin, one of Thailand’s richest, and his daughter Alisa, and allegations and charges related to alleged money laundering involving Wat Dhammakaya.

Read this  first. Then these: Amlo freezes Alisa’s land assets, Anant faces money laundering charge and LH founder surprised by summons.

Then  read this: Embezzlement-temple scandal ensnares property titan.

Then recall that Anant is widely considered to be one of the few big businessmen who stuck with Thaksin Shinawatra. Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker shows on pages 150-1 that Anant remained a supporter.

Also recall that Anant is a Wat Dhammakaya supporter.

Back when the military ran its 2014 coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime summoned or temporarily detained “more than 500 individuals since the coup, the current junta has not just picked off members of erstwhile ruling Puea Thai party and its ‘red shirt’ supporters.”

At the time, it “also identified luminaries in the Thai business world linked to Thaksin, like Mr Anant Asavabhokhin, chairman of Land and Houses, one of the country’s biggest developers. It showed a keen awareness of the possible support for the Thaksin network.”





Nothing changed II

7 04 2017

And how’s that promised “election” coming along?

The Nation reports that “Deputy Prime Minister [Deputy Dictator] and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said the controls [on political parties] might stay in place because the country’s political situation has not yet settled down.”

There’s a novel idea: “elections” without parties or their campaigning. Maybe voting can be done with blindfolds on and throwing darts at a giant target with “junta” written on it.

Prawit reflected that: “Things are still not alright now. We want more time and we want all the parties to help. Do not make trouble or it will be more difficult for us to make a decision…”.

We wonder if he’s thinking about that tiny but convenient bomb? Or perhaps that “assassination plot” for which no substantive evidence has been produced? Or the rusty bunch of weapons “seized” from red shirts that became a sparkling bunch of newer weapons after the military had the “suspects” and “evidence” for a while? Or maybe Wat Dhammakaya, although that all seems back to “junta normal.”

Prawit declared: “I’m responsible for security issues. I need time to work on this and everyone should cooperate with us too…. It’s not going to work if things are stirred up like this.”

Translated that means the junta will decided when to hold its “election” and who will “win.” That’s the way it has been since the coup.





The Ko Tee trifecta

24 03 2017

In one of our earlier posts on the military junta’s marvelous story about a mammoth plot to accumulate war weapons, assassinate The Dictator using a sniper rifle and cause a rebellion based on Wat Dhammakaya, we had three predictions.

First, that Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul was claimed to be involved in the “plot” as a way to gain his extradition from Laos. The junta has announced that. Second, we said the men arrested would “confess.” The junta announced that they have “confessed.” We added that the third usual event was a parade of “suspects.”

We now have the trifecta, with the Bangkok Post reporting, with video, that the men have been paraded. But, for the junta, they even get a “bonus” payout because after all this time in military custody, the “suspects” incriminated red shirts and and the Puea Thai Party, and that allowed for the rabid yellow shirt media to also incriminate Thaksin Shinawatra.

For the junta, this seems like a perfect “crime”! They have it all!





BBC on a triple transition

23 03 2017

Jonathan Head’s recent report on Wat Dhammakaya is worth reading. We won’t go through it all and will just post some clips from it. It skillfully weaves a story that ends with this:

Thailand is in the midst of a complex and potentially dangerous, triple transition; a delicate royal succession, a battle over the future of Buddhism and a still uncertain political transition to a military-guided democracy.

Given that, a sect as controversial as Wat Dhammakaya was perhaps bound to be caught up in the turbulence.

 It begins by noting the smoke and mirrors of Thailand’s (in)justice system:

Over the past month what is often cited as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, on the outskirts of Bangkok, has been the scene of an extraordinary stalemate.

Police officers, in rows three deep, blocked the gates to the Wat Dhammakaya temple compound. Around the back, helmeted soldiers guarded alleyways, with some crawling through surrounding rice-fields. It was, they explained, a restricted military zone….

The official reason for this siege was that the elderly abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, was wanted on multiple criminal charges related to a collapsed credit union and police believed he was being hidden inside the temple….

But then, after three weeks, the operation was suddenly called off…. Even now it remains unclear what exactly the police wanted to achieve.

As so often in Thailand, the official explanation is misleading. Allegations of financial malpractice have hung over the temple and its charismatic abbot for decades. They also hang over many other institutions and individuals in Thailand, many of whom are neither investigated nor prosecuted. To be pursued by the state with this much commitment suggests that much larger issues are at stake.

The military dictatorship is said to have several motives for its odd behavior on the temple. One observation is that:

… it should come as no surprise that a military government bent on restoring traditional values, and backed by ultra-conservatives who want to see the Buddhist clergy cleansed of corrupting, modern influences, dislikes Wat Dhammakaya.

Then there’s the weapons “seized” a few days ago.

… the government continues to push its argument that there is something sinister about Wat Dhammakaya.

Last weekend the police showed off a large cache of weapons seized, they said, from the home of a now-exiled dissident. Although many of the weapons were ancient, the police argued that there was a plan to arm the temple’s supporters and even to assassinate top government officials.

One of PPT’s readers, with decades of military service has also pointed out that the cache of weapons was made up of mostly old and some pretty useless guns and accessories. The BBC seems to find the link as wondrous as we do, but points to the junta’s political motives and makes a good point:

Indeed the temple is the largest institution in the country not under the military’s control, and its refusal to hand over its abbot is the most sustained defiance of military rule since the coup.

Then there’s the “triple transition,” with the monarchy going through change as the new king stamps his reign as fundamentally different from his father’s.

Just as the monarchy is seen by Thailand’s [military] rulers as the essential institution holding the country together and legitimising governments, so the monarch’s official role as protector of Buddhism gives each occupant of the throne a unique, sacred stature. Kings preside over the most important Buddhist rituals at the most prestigious temples. The two institutions reinforce each other.

… King Vajirakongkorn’s command to strip the royal monastic titles from Phra Dhammachayo and his de facto replacement as abbot also signals royal support for the government’s move against the temple.

It is an interesting read.





Stunned by reporting

23 03 2017

Well, we know nothing should stun us when it comes to Thailand, its politics and its media. Yet a report at the Bangkok Post is seriously stunning. We are stunned because the report seems to buy, consume, digest and reproduce junta propaganda.

In a report at the Bangkok Post, the newspaper combines reports on Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul and the claims by the junta that he was seeking to kill a couple of dictators, a story on the junta’s instrument, the Department of Special Investigation, a senior monk from Wat Dhammakaya surrendering himself for interrogation and a falling out between a DSI man, now assigned by The Dictator to head up the National Buddhism Office and fascist monk Buddha Issara.

Without the junta’s stories from a few days ago, there’s no connection between the stories, except for DSI being involved in each. But that’s not the headline, which is the junta ruse. That’s either really lazy editing or its a dumb acceptance of junta stories.

We also note that, as The Dictator demanded, the media is dutifully cutting back on its reporting of the Ko Tee story.

While on that story, does it seem odd that Ko Tee is reported charged: “A police source said warrants have been issued for Mr Wuthipong’s arrest on charges of possessing weapons of war and violating the Firearms Act.”

Now how does that work?

After all, the junta “plans to seek the extradition of Mr Wuthipong from Laos following the discovery of a huge [sic. that’s the Post accepting the junta story, again] cache of weapons…. They suspect the weapons were his.”

So he’s been on the run outside Thailand for more than three years but “charged” with “possessing weapons”? Poor reporting or dopey reporting?

Or is the new story that these weapons were sitting there for years and police didn’t find them in previous searches? We think we’ll go for dumb junta and dopey reporting.





“Evidence” for an “assassination” plot

22 03 2017

The assassination story, already remarkable, is becoming increasingly stunning for its contradictions.

The Bangkok Post reports: that the junta has now “found” a “movement” working against it and called it “Red Radio.” It claims it has been “for several months been planning to assassinate Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon…”.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said “Red Radio” had also been “working to stifle the authorities’ efforts to investigate Wat Phra Dhammakaya by causing unrest there…”.

No one could possibly believe that the junta’s own efforts at Wat Dhammakaya could have caused any unrest there.

Pol Gen Srivara said his lot are “now seeking arrest warrants for six people who are suspected of being involved in the group including red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, who goes by the alias Kotee and is believed to have taken refuge in neighbouring Laos.”

That seems to be six in addition to the nine already arrested. (We are surprised that they have not been paraded yet, although that usually awaits the passing of seven days in military custody somewhere secret.

Then a claim that it is “not clear whether the group has ties to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…”.

The police claim is that “Red Radio” “aims to kill Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit and had been told to attack military, police and other officials during the authorities’ raids on the temple, according to the police investigation.”

And the evidence is….

Our investigation has shown that several of the suspects, detained previously, were spotted at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and nearby Khlong Luang central market, for reasons unknown….

As police investigators have found no link between Mr Wuthipong or Red Radio and the temple, they believe the group’s main goal has been to stir up unrest during the authorities’ operations there….

Yes, that’s “no links,” none, zilch.

The temple itself has “denied any involvement with Mr Wuthipong or the group.”

And, The Dictator is playing down the Wat Dhammakaya link: “Gen Prayut said he was more concerned about the alleged assassination plots and the seizure of weapons of war.” He’s also playing down the size of the “plot,” saying it was small.

Previous reports stated that police said “some of the seized weapons had been taken from soldiers during the violent red-shirt political rallies in mid-town Bangkok in 2010.”

Now, Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said just one “M16 rifle seized at the weekend has been confirmed to be among the state weapons stolen during the red-shirt protest … in April 2010.”

The story is changing and the evidence is flimsy, but the junta seems rattled.





Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.