PPT realizes that the story has been widely reported, but we want to add some information to the story regarding the King Power-Asian Football Investments reported purchase of Football League club Leicester City. The Financial Times says this:
What is it about Thai billionaires and British football clubs?
First Thaksin Shinawatra – telecoms magnate turned prime minister turned international fugitive – bought Manchester City and now Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn, whose family owns duty free outlet King Power, has taken over Football League club Leicester City.
The continent is obsessed with football, and especially British football. Step into a taxi anywhere from Bali to Beijing and once nationality has been established, the conversation takes a familiar swerve: “That Wayne Rooney…”.
So who is Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn?
Raksriaksorn heads Asian Football Investments, a consortium that includes Milan Mandaric, who bought the club three years ago and is the son of Vichai Raksriaksorn, the politically well-connected founder of King Power. The company holds the lucrative monopoly on duty free sales in Thailand.
There is no formal word on how much the consortium paid, but the Thai media put the price tag at around Bt2bn.
In some ways the deal makes sense. King Power had already signed a three-year shirt sponsorship deal with Leicester, and it is advertising that draws in the Asian dollars.
Thaksin, the billionaire-turned-political-exile, bought Manchester City in 2007, shortly after he lost the prime minister’s office in a military coup. He only owned the club for year before selling out to Abu Dhabi interests, who then humiliatingly dumped him as the club’s honorary chairman in 2009, saying that it was “inappropriate” to have a politician convicted of corruption in such a high-profile role.
Let’s hope there are no more own goals for Team Thailand.
PPT has commented briefly in the past about the links between Vichai Raksriaksorn and notorious Buriram godfather-politician, blue shirt benefactor and key coalition “member” Newin Chidchob. Let us reiterate some of the points made in earlier posts (by doing a bit of cut-and-pasting):
Back in September 2009, we commented on Police Lt-General Somyos Phumphanmuang taking over the investigation of the People’s Alliance for Democracy occupation of the airports. Lt-General Somyos was said to be “close to Newin Chidchob, the de facto leader of Bhum Jai Thai Party, and Vichai Raksriaksorn, owner of King Power, which runs the ‘duty free’ outlet at airport.” Suvarnabhumi airport’s monopoly duty free operations – granted under Thaksin Shinawatra’s government – have been under scrutiny recently (try Googling “Suvarnabhumi scams”) and King Power’s Vichai Raksriaksorn has been ranked as one of Thailand’s richest by Forbes. Chang Noi mentioned him recently and King Power’s SEC listing is here.
Later, in February this year, PPT reported on how Newin had promoted his Phum Jai Thai Party as a monarchy-loving and monarchy-protecting party promising a Thaksin Shinawatra-like return to the good economic times. Newin appears regularly at royal-related events, promoting clumsy and obvious kinds of royal propaganda. But it is blue for his party and for the royal he seems to be most keen to support.
Related, Newin bought one of Thailand’s major league football teams. Newin is the chairman of Buri Rum-Provincial Electricity Authority FC having paid a considerable amount for it. Of course, its kit is blue. Its sponsors are Chang Beer and King Power.
Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi is the owner of Chang. He is well known as one of Thailand’s wealthiest men but has been reasonably publicity shy. Lycos Retriever has some details. There’s also a chapter on him in Pasuk and Baker’s Thai Capital published in 2008. Family details are available here. He has good bureaucratic contacts through his liquor and beer businesses. Charoen has been a generous donor to royal activities. He is remarkably powerful and has huge cash flow, which makes him a valuable political ally.
The King Power link to Newin has been known for several years. Vichai Raksriaksorn has been one of Newin’s strongest supporters and he is wealthy, politically active and a big supporter of things royal. He is the one credited with having “plagiarized” the Lance Armstrong plastic bracelets in Thailand and made them Long live the king bracelets and raised a fortune that he handed over to the palace. Vichai’s background is not very clear. In 2007 he was ranked by Forbes as Thailand’s 21st wealthiest, worth about US$200 million. He’s much richer than that now. The best available account of King Power and its economic and political power is by Chang Noi. The airport monopoly also provides the huge cash flow that are a political asset.
Vichai almost single-handedly established and developed the rich person’s sport of polo in Thailand. You’d think this was little more than a hobby, but through his Thailand Polo Association, Vichai has been able to link to royals worldwide – they all seem to play this ostentatious sport – and this has added greatly to his credibility in Thailand’s high society. The Association is also populated by “advisers” who are generals in the police and military. Vichai loves teaming up for polo with Britain’s Princes Charles and William and being pictured with them in Hello magazine.
To follow some of these links, PPT suggests looking at the Thai-language edition of the U.K.’s Hello magazine which regularly highlights royals, the rich (Charoen’s son’s engagement and wedding was covered in an earlier issue) and polo. An earlier advertisement for a 20 February 2010 fund-raising polo game called the Queen’s Cup, for “ladies,” featured M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, lady-in-waiting to the queen.
So the purchase of Leicester City should probably be seen as part of a larger money-making venture that, if successful, might well enrich Vichai and his family, but is also sure to provide a link to Buriram and, inevitably, the sordid world of Newin’s politics.