Opaque stuff

28 04 2019

Of course, under Thailand’s military junta, there’s been a lot of things that is not explained, are  opaque and behind closed doors. Like election results.

However, a couple of recent reports deserve mention for their lack of transparency.

First, the now more or less broke State Railway of Thailand has “decided to grant the concession for the 220 billion baht high-speed rail project linking three major airports to the consortium led by Charoen Pokphand Group (CP).” The decision means the SRT has only a couple of weeks to submit the draft agreement to its board of directors.

For CP, this is yet another triumph that will make it even more powerful and will drive the link to China, so close to the heart of its controlling family. Yet the project has been been criticized.

The story on CP, the junta and the EEC has not be fully explained. That the project is heavily promoted from the public purse requires investigation,

Second, there’s been some perplexed commentary on why the Ombudsman has become involved in making decision regarding constitutional matters. The links between that office and the junta need to be unpicked.

Third, no thanks to the junta, the Bangkok Post the Bangkok Post has shone some much needed light on the Election Commission’s recent fad for using “media ownership” as a means for eliminating some successful anti-junta candidates from the “election.” What remains unclear is how a candidate from Future Forward could be disqualified under these media provisions when his company did no media work.

If the junta gets its way, there’s another four years of wheeling, dealing and no transparency.





Updated: Censorship for the junta by big business

14 03 2019

PPT doesn’t usually spend much time considering the letters pages of newspapers. However, a few days ago, a letter to The Nation caught our attention.

A reader observed political censorship by True Visions, a CP company. Unfortunately, no one at PPT subscribes to True Visions, so we are unable to confirm the details. Readers might let us know.

The reader reckoned that “[f]ollowing the 2014 coup, subscribers of True Visions became accustomed to brief interruptions to international news stations, signalled by the on screen announcement, ‘Programming will be resumed shortly’.” Most of these interruptions were “triggered by reports relating to the Thai Royal Family … [and the] strict lese majeste law and the potential responsibility of broadcasters for airing content deemed inappropriate.”

But something has changed, says the reader. As elections approach, “the interruptions caused by the True Visions censors have become longer and more frequent.” These are not about the monarchy.

The letter writer points out that “international news stations post their reports online, the more curious viewer is, in many cases, still able to access the missing content…”. What this demonstrates is that “most recent interruptions are of a strictly political nature.” He points to several stories censored to protect the junta.

He wonders how much this censorship extends from English-language reports to Thai cable television.

One can speculate why it is that the country’s richest richest non-royals are backing the military junta.

Update: We just posted this and went off to look at Prachatai where we found they had a story on this topic. It refers to “Al Jazeera’s news broadcast on True Visions cable TV momentarily stopped on the morning of 8 March.” It continues:

The BBC’s broadcast, also through True Visions, was also briefly cut both on 7 March and the morning of 8 March, and the same message was shown on the screen. Jonathan Head, BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, tweeted “It’s sadly routine now. Thailand is preparing for an election, but the climate of military intolerance persists.”





Updated: Things that make you go, hmm

15 12 2018

There’s a lot going on, so this is a catch-up on a few media stories worth considering. And these are all from the Bangkok Post!:

Watana gets off: The Criminal Court has found Puea Thai politician and junta critic Watana Muangsook not guilty in a quite ridiculous charge related to comments he made about the vandalism associated with the stealing of the 1932 plaque from the Royal Plaza.

The court said Watana’s comments:

were opinions that could not be deemed a computer crime. They posed no threat to security…. The court said his messages could be considered in the context of academic freedom and his criticism of authorities did not reflect ill intent.

The ridiculousness of the charge is that the junta has never done anything to find those responsible for stealing the plaque and replacing it with a royalist plaque that could easily have been composed in the palace. Of course, the authorities have done nothing because they know exactly who ordered its removal and replacement.

EC makes false promises: By now readers know that we think the Election Commission is totally compromised. So a promise to be clear about the election is simply impossible. Where it is closer to the truth it is in stating: “This is all about establishing credibility by generating information that is reliable and correct for the international community.” What EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong might have said was that the EC’s job is establishing credibility for the junta’s election by generating information that obfuscates. After all, that’s its track record to date. That impression of the EC’s bias is reinforced when Ittiporn mumbles that “foreign envoys did not appear to have any concerns about predictions by some critics of that the poll would be ‘less than free and fair’.” Of course, no one expects a free or fair election. Even the Bangkok Post has been forced to question the EC’s “independence” and “credibility.” Is the EC’s task just to give “credibility” to the junta’s rigged election?

Parliament has no home: The parliament building has been closed and will be given to the king. So the bureaucracy of the parliament and the puppet National Legislative Assembly is homeless. Why the Royal Household Bureau can’t wait for a few months is never explained by the fearful Thai media. Consider the fact that the NLA seems to have been caught unaware by this move and has only just begun to look for a expensive, temporary home. Why’s that?

The Eel jailed: The exceptionally slippery Tharit Pengdit and Suthep Thaugsuban used to be tight, at least when Suthep was managing the crushing of the red shirts. They later fell out and became enemies as DSI led investigations into Suthep’s role in the gunning down of protesters. The enmity was further deepened when Suthep accused Tharit of defamation in February 2013. This had to do with corruption over police buildings under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. In two court cases in 2015 and 2016, Tarit was found not guilty. Suthep appealed to the Supreme Court. So the question is why Tarit suddenly decided to plead “guilty” before the case was concluded and why is he now jailed for a year. That makes you think.

Guess who?: In a two horse race between consortia of some of the biggest and best-connected Sino-Thai tycoons for the contract to build a high-speed railway connecting three major airports, the one led by CP has won. As well as winning, they get a state subsidy of almost 120 billion baht. Makes you wonder how rich the richest non-royals can get.

Update: The authorities have assured Thailand that CP didn’t “win” the bid for the HSR. They just had the lowest bid and negotiations are now needed with the CP consortium in order to determine whether they will win. Funny way to do tendering, but we are willing to bet on the outcome, as we were before the two bids were opened.





Another lese majeste acquittal

15 11 2018

The change to the prosecution and conviction of lese majeste cases continues to move in a better direction.

Khaosod reports that “Sakan Saengfueng … walked free today [14 Nov] after spending nearly five years in jail…”.

He had earlier been convicted in an alleged bomb plot and spent 4 years in jail on that score. Sakan and two other alleged red shirts were arrested in April 2009 “on suspicion of plotting to bomb the head office of Charoen Pokphand…”.

When he was to be released, “Sakan was then held in custody after other inmates accused him of royal insult.” In 2014 these inmates allegedly “complained to guards that Sakan insulted the monarchy while watching a TV documentary on King Rama IX.”

This led to a lese majeste charge and Sakan was “detained shortly after his release in 2017. He was denied bail and sent back to jail for the next seven months.”

Interestingly, like Tom Dundee, Sakan initially pleaded not guilty but agreed to cop a guilty plea. However, the court did not accept this. Remarkably, the court “said Sakan’s remarks ‘needed interpretation’ and were not evidently critical of the Royal Family as alleged by the plaintiffs.” Because of this and a lack of evidence, like Tom, Sakan was acquitted.

The state may appeal, but in the current climate this seems unlikely.





King and Privy Council

14 10 2018

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a well-known critic of the monarchy. He has a new article at The Diplomat. Most of it, though, will be familiar to PPT readers. However, it is worth remaking some of his points.

He focuses on the recent reorganization of the Privy Council and notes that the:

king’s decision to evict old members of the Privy Council close to his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the stripping of the power from its president, General Prem Tinsulanonda, as well as the appointment of his close confidants as new Privy Councilors, suggests that, more than just a process, this is part of the growing aggrandizement of political power of Thailand’s new King….

In fact, the king has not really done anything that should not have been expected. Any new king would want to have his most trusted advisers in place.

The dead king made sure he had pliant royalists as advisers “working outside the constitutional framework to compete with other elite groups for administrative and political power.”

They protected and advanced the king’s and monarchy’s positions:

Successive coups have over the years strengthened the partnership between the Privy Council and the military. The Privy Council played its part in endorsing past coups, including the most recent one in May 2014. Prem, in the aftermath of the coup, openly praised the coup makers for being a force that moved Thailand forward. This underlined the quintessential role of the Privy Council as an engine behind the Thai politics.

In the past reign, the link with the military mostly revolved around Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and, to a lesser extent, Gen Surayud Chulanont. The Privy Councilors

… constructed a complex web of relationships as a way to sanctify the royal power above other institutions outside the constitutional framework. In his overt intervention in politics, Prem placed his trusted subordinates in key positions in the bureaucracy and in the army. He had an influence on the defense budget, and dominated national security and foreign policy, and thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Pavin also notes that the:

Privy Council under Prem also had its members seated on boards in major conglomerates including Bangkok Bank, Charoen Phokphand, the Boonrawd group, and the Charoen Siriwatanapakdi business group. For the Privy Council, reaching out to these powerful factions was as crucial as allowing them to reach in, thus consolidating a network of interdependence. The Privy Council’s strong ties with the bureaucracy, the military and businesses effectively circumscribed the power and authority of the government of the day.

The new king wants similar influence, but he’s been busy pushing the old duffers aside. Prem is infirm, doddery and being made essentially powerless:

On October 2, Vajiralongkorn added three more Privy Councillors to its team: Amphon Kittiamphon, currently advisor to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha; General Chalermchai Sidhisart, former army chief, and; Air Chief Marshal Chom Rungsawang, former Air Force chief. This latest move can be regarded as Vajiralongkorn’s plot in strengthening his political position by setting up a new trusted team to replace the old one—the team that has its links with the current military strongmen.

At present, 10 of the 16 councilors have been appointed by the current king. He can appoint another two. At the same time, he has already ditched three he appointed, presumably because they annoyed him about something or other. So the “trusted team” is being put in place, but there’s still some work to do or dying to be done.

Pavin also mentions the “law was enacted in regard to the ownership of the rich Crown Property Bureau…, [where] crown property assets reverted to the ownership of the king with the bureau’s investments now being held in Vajiralongkorn’s name.”

He might have mentioned that the king is now personally the largest shareholder in both the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank, the latter ownership having been seen in stockholder information fairly recently. (We also think Pavin should update the $30 billion assets of the CPB/king. That was from data collected in 2005 and imperfectly updated in 2011. We would guess that the real figure is closer to $50-60 billion.)

Pavin is undoubtedly right that while “many predicted that Vajiralongkorn, perceived as having lacked moral authority, could become a weak king.” As he now says, “He is quickly proving them wrong.”





Updated: Intimidation intensifies

27 04 2016

The military dictatorship appears to have moved into a period of even deeper repression and intimidation. Part of this has to do with the fear of Thaksin Shinawatra. Some of it has to do with the junta cracking down on widespread opposition to it charter and its anti-democratic intent. And there may be other motivations that have to do with junta fears.

We can’t post on all of the reports of this new and deepening intimidation. Rather, we provide a listing of recent reports. It quite a list over just a week. The pattern is clear. As Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk stated that a “climate of fear” is “growing in the country ahead of the referendum.” He added that the “junta is mobilising state machinery and everything is being used to promote the draft constitution while people who oppose the draft are being targeted…”.

In fact, as we will show below, as bad as this is, in fact, the intimidation is broader than this.

The junta has threatened Bencharat Sae Chua, a lecturer of Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies. The lecturer is distributing information for a vote against the military’s draft charter has been threatened with Section 61 of the Referendum Act of 2016. This could mean up to 10 years in jail.

Puea Thai Party members have been targeted. It is reported that some 300 police and soldiers searched the homes of two politicians among others in Nakhon Sawan, accusing them of being “influential” figures. The military barred reporters from the houses they searched.

Earlier today it was reported that at least four people were abducted by the military in the early hours of the morning. Two men were abducted in Bangkok and two in Khon Kaen. The four are accused of being red shirts.

Within a couple of hours, the number abducted by the military rose to eight, with the military then saying they held 10 persons. Two of those abducted worked closely with red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan. Of the 10, eight were taken in Bangkok and two in Khon Kaen. The two in Khon Kaen were accused by the military of “belonging to the New Democracy Group and the Resistant Citizen Group led by Anon Kampa.”  Activists called for protests.

At least some of those arrested seem to have been subject to complaints by the hopelessly biased puppet Election Commission. It  filed its first charges under the new referendum law that criminalizes political commentary. The charges were against a Facebook group for posting “foul and strong” comments criticizing the military’s draft constitution. The puppet EC claimed that the Facebook page had used “aggressive, harsh and rude language to urge readers to vote against the draft constitution to be put to a public vote Aug 7.”

Earlier, it was reported that Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan stated that both the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and the red shirts were under investigation for “announcing their stands on the draft constitution.” So far we can find no evidence of action against the PDRC.

A couple of days ago, the military “indicted six activists for demanding an investigation into the Rajabhakti Park corruption scandal.” Those indicted are reported to be “Sirawit Serithiwat, a student activist from New Democracy Movement, Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer and core leader of Resistant Citizen, Kititach Suman, Wisarut Anupoonkarn, Koranok Kamda and Wijit Hanhaboon…”.

Last week, in Udon Thani, soldiers intimidated anti-mine activists ahead of a planned forum on the environmental effects of a potash mine in the province.

Around the same time, Watana Muangsook complained that “certain people pressured the Charoen Pokphand Company (CP), one of the biggest conglomerates in Asia run by the family of his former wife, to convince Weerada Muangsook, his daughter, to leave the country.”

In the south, the military has summoned the leader of a sea nomad community on Rawai Beach in Phuket, to a military camp. There he was intimidated by the military who accused of violating a junta order which gives almost absolute power to soldiers with the rank of sub-lieutenant upwards to maintain national security.

Update: Members of the Neo-Democracy Movement and the Resistant Citizen group organized a protest against the arrests at the Victory Monument.Police grabbed and detained 16 of the protesters at the Phaya Thai police station. They were detained for protesting by standing still in a group.





Big business, wealth, royal connections and fines

21 03 2016

Big business supported the coup and the junta. It supported notions of anti-corruption, so long as it was elected politicians who were in the firing line. We wonder how it is doing now?

At ThailandBusinessNews it is reported that “top executives and shareholders of five companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand for insider trading…”. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) pursued insider trading for the second time in three months “on top managers who have abused their power in publicly traded firms for their own benefit or for their accomplices.”

Insider trading has long been normal in Thailand, as it has been in many Asian bourses and internationally as well.

In December, the SEC hit “four top executives of CP All Plc, Thailand’s biggest convenience store operator, with hefty financial penalties. For more details, see the story at AEC News Today. The company, one of Thailand’s whales and under the Chearavanont family’s Charoen Phokphand Group, ignored the fines and allowed the executives to continue in their positions. CP has long had connections with the palace but has also been wiling to bet on all sides of politics.

Now, the SEC has “fined top executives and shareholders of five companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand…”. The report has details on Siam Makro:

It fined Korsak Chairasmisak, chairman of the executive committee, Piyawat Titasattavorakul and Pittaya Jearavisitkul, two vice-chairmen of the executive committee, and Athueck Asvanund, the firm’s chief legal officer, a total of 33.34 million baht for using inside information to buy shares in Siam Makro Plc.

At its website, the company has a 13-page “good corporate governance” document. Its board includes three scions of the Chearavanont family and the chairman of the board is none other than Asa Sarasin, and a board member of royal-dominated companies and other CP companies. Asa retired as secretary-general of the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary in 2012, having held the position for 12 years.

Another hit in this bout of insider trading crackdowns is also a business whale:

On Wednesday, the regulator said it had banned Chai Sophonpanich, chairman of Bangkok Insurance Plc (BKI), from being a director at Bangkok Life Assurance (BLA) for three years for his involvement in insider trading. He has also been barred from working in capital markets for the same period. The ban took effect yesterday, but he is not prohibited from working at BKI.

The Criminal Fining Committee has imposed a fine of 500,000 baht on Chai Sophonpanich for disclosing inside information for other persons to purchase shares of Bangkok Insurance Public Company Limited (BKI).

Following a referral from the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the SEC’s further inspection has revealed that Chai, then chairman and chairman of the executive board of directors of BKI, proposed a dividend payment plan for BKI shareholders at the ratio of five existing shares to two dividend shares, on top of the normal dividend payment plan for the operating performance of 2013.

This was material information that would have supported an upward trend of the BKI share price. Chai disclosed such inside information to other persons who purchased BKI shares during 24-25 February 2014 before the information became publicly known on 28 February 2014. Such action was deemed taking an unfair advantage of other people.

The Sophonpanich family has been one of Thailand’s leading business families since the late 1940s. It operates a related family in Hong Kong, involved in banking, politics and other businesses.

Other executives found guilty of insider trading practices by the SEC were:

… Somyos Anantaprayoon, current chairman of WHA Corporation Plc, who was fined 500,000 baht for telling two newspapers — with the articles published on Oct 27, 2014 — that the company was in talks to acquire a listed company worth 50 billion baht, though such information had not yet been made public.

The Criminal Fining Committee has fined Somyos Anantaprayoon for dessiminating news that may have led other persons to understand that the share price of WHA Corporation Plc. (WHA) would rise or fall, and such information had not been disclosed to the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).

Following a referral from the SET and the SEC’s further inspection, it was found that Somyos, then Chairman, CEO and a major shareholder of WHA, had released news to the public through two media publications issued on 27 October 2014 with the key message that WHA was negotiating a business deal worth approximately 50 billion baht to take over a listed company that had long been established for more than 20 years in the same industry as WHA with a multiple P/E of 10.

His misconduct with regard to the dessimination of facts that had not yet been disclosed to the SET and contained material information that could have influenced investors’ decision making and the price movements of WHA shares being traded on the SET, was in violation of Section 239 and liable to the penalites under Section 296 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1992. He was imposed a criminal fine of 500,000 baht

He’s one of the founding family of WHA. WHA has a 4-page code of conduct.

Another group hit is the family-controlled Siam Global House, with its boss Witoon Suriyawanakul listed by Forbes as entering Thailand’s richest list in 2013:

… Witoon Suriyawanakul, chairman of the management committee and director of Siam Global House (Global), and three other shareholders, who were given a combined fine of 25.3 million baht for insider trading.

The SEC found that Mr Witoon bought 8.02 million shares and 3.5 million units of warrants of Global from June 29 to Aug 23, 2012 using accounts of people who have a relationship with him in order to take advantage of inside information regarding SCG Distribution’s planned acquisition of Global. The other three shareholders were viewed as accomplices. The acquisition was disclosed to the public on Aug 27, 2012.

The Criminal Fining Committee has imposed a total fine of 25,322,064.39 on four offenders for using insider information to purchase ordinary shares and warrants of Siam Global House Public Company Limited (GLOBAL).

The four offenders are: (1) Witoon Suriyawanakul, (2) Kunnatee Suriyawanakul, (3) Apilas Suriyavanakul, and (4) Kriangkai Suriyawanakul.

All are from the founding family. The deal that was considered insider trading had a connection to the royal-controlled Siam Cement:

Following a referral from the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the SEC’s further investigation has revealed that Witoon and the three other persons in the same group purchased GLOBAL shares and GLOBAL-W warrants and gained benefits from such transactions. Witoon, who was chairman of the management committee of GLOBAL, had the decision making power over the terms and conditions of an agreement between GLOBAL and SCG Distribution Co., Ltd. (SCG), a wholely owned subsidiary of The Siam Cement Public Company Limited, with regard to SCG’s plan to hold at least 30 percent of GLOBAL’s total voting shares by purchasing GLOBAL ordinary capital shares through a private placement.

In this regard, SCG would make a partial offer of GLOBAL shares, which was expected to increase business strength for GLOBAL.

Making the most of being close to the royal center.

As the report makes clear, most of those found guilty “are from the country’s richest families.” The Forbes’ 2015 list of Thailand’s 50 richest has this:

– Mr Chai’s half brother, Chatri Sophonpanich, was ranked 14th with estimated assets of US$1.5 billion (about 52 billion baht)

– Mr Somyos and his then-wife Ms Jareeporn together were ranked 32nd with estimated assets of $765 million

– Witoon Suriyawanakul was ranked 48th and worth $470 million

The Chearavanont family was worth ranked 1st, worth US$14.4 billion.

It seems that the rich never have enough.

By the way, for interest, insider trading in other places seems to sometimes draw bigger penalties: In the US, 11 years in prison and fined a criminal and civil penalty of over $150 million; in the US, $8.8 million fine; and in Australia, more than 8 years in jail.