Wealth, power and the corruption of justice

10 07 2021

With all of the virus stuff going on, we are a bit late getting to this post. However, as it concerns the seemingly never-ending saga of corruption and double standards in the judicial system, it merits a late post.

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post reported that all members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) have been ordered to “sit on a newly formed panel that is tasked with investigating 15 senior police officers, prosecutors and investigators who mishandled the 2012 hit-and-run case involving Vorayuth ‘Boss’ Yoovidh­ya, the Red Bull scion who has managed to escape prosecution so far.”

Apparently, after almost 10 years, the case is officially considered “high profile.” We guess that for all of the previous nine years the case has involved the high profile but that the judicial system was doing its well-paid best to do deals to get Boss off.

Vorayuth Red Bull

An AFP photo clipped from ChannelNews Asia

NACC chairman Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit has also decided, after all these years,”that the investigation must be wrapped up in a timely fashion…”. Right. But, then: “As required under Section 48 of the National Anti-Corruption Act, the NACC must conclude the probe within two years. It will be allowed by law to extend the investigation for another year at most, if more time is needed…”. So that could be 2024…. Timely… not.

The report reminds readers that there are “currently two other committees probing the issue.” We figure that “probing” is an over-statement.

In an editorial, the Bangkok Post states that this NACC “investigation” is “welcome news.” It notes the damage the case’s cover-up has done to the judicial system: “The anti-graft body would do a great service to the justice system and country at large with a swift investigation. It should also make sure to avoid all the mistakes by other agencies that performed at snail’s pace over the past nine years.”

Well, maybe. Of course, the NACC has generally been hopeless on almost all the cases sent to it, “investigating” with double standards and political affiliation always in mind. The rest of the judicial system has been equally biased and corrupt to boot.

The wheeling and dealing has been huge. Even before the NACC commissioners got to “work,” it seems that “one member, Suchart Trakulkasemsuk, withdrew from the panel.” Why? Because as a member of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly “he had been a member of NLA’s subcommittee on justice and had received a petition from Vorayuth’s family…”.

It turns out that the fabulously wealthy and immensely powerful Yoovidhya family were “allowed 14 appeal attempts … which is unprecedented.”

The Post concludes with the obvious: “the suggested three-year period seems far too long, taking into account the fact the case had dragged on for nearly a decade.”





Lockdown, failures, and fools

9 07 2021

With virus infections surging, the regime looks hopeless. Some say it might have corrupted its vaccine procurement program.*

The anticipated lockdown has arrived, but remains limited in scope, suggesting that the regime is non-comprehending that the lockdown announcement will see even more infected people decamping to their villages. In this sense, and whatever one thinks about lockdowns, the delays in securing a lockdown means that it likely becomes a superspreader event. But this isn’t the first time, with the failure to limit movement at Thai new year likely also spreading the virus.

The greatest impact will, as ever, be on the poor. They are the least able to get through a lockdown. The economy is already staggering, and it is likely that this new restriction will crush the lives of many of those who have struggled to make ends meet over the last year or so.

But, never fear, the dolts running the country (into the ground) are doing their bit:

I am listening but can’t hear

Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha has announced that he will give up his salary for three months, to help those suffering from COVID-19, while some other ministers then announced that they will do the same….

Currently, the prime minister earns 125,590 baht per month, which includes 75,590 baht salary, plus a 50,000 baht position based allowance. This means that the prime minister will be giving up a total of 376,770 baht.

After the prime minister’s announcement, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, Social Development and Human Security Minister Chuti Krairerk, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob and Digital Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn also announced that they will give up their salaries.

This is buffalo manure. Gen Prayuth and his ilk have done so much damage that giving up spare change means nothing. But perhaps some PR guru told them that a symbolic gesture is necessary. But it’s an empty gesture, with the damage already done. The damage on the vaccines was predicted (and rejected) last year.

*On this, we wondered if the data presented in an article about the new, large Sinovac purchase is correct or if someone is on the take. That article states that “cabinet on Tuesday approved a proposal to procure 10.9 million additional Sinovac vaccine doses at 6.1 billion baht.” With our poor math, we calculated a cost of 560 baht a dose. That seems roughly double the going rate. Sinovac is already very expensive when its relatively low efficacy is considered.





General corruption

16 06 2021

About a week ago it was reported that The Dictator’s brother, Gen Preecha Chan-ocha is being investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission for his assets declaration back in 2014.

His alleged false declaration involves his new, luxury house in Phitsanulok and a bank account belonging to his wife.

In a follow-up, the Bangkok Post, referring to him as “Senator Preecha,” has it that Gen Preecha, who had claimed he had “explained everything,” is now expected to turn up at the NACC “some time this month to acknowledge charges of concealing assets belonging to him and his wife.” In fact, he has been “summoned to hear the charges, and the agency is expecting the senator to show by the end of the month.”

We can’t wait! But we may have to. The report states that:

Once Gen Preecha meets with NACC, he will be given 15 days to come up with a rebuttal, he said, before adding Gen Preecha can seek an extension with the NACC if he needs one.

After that, NACC commissioners will decide whether to forward the case to prosecutors or not.

This is a real test for the NACC if it is to turn itself into something other than a regime tool.





Still on the lam

16 06 2021

The 2012 hit-and-run case involving tycoon scion Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya of Red Bull fame, when he killed a policeman while driving his luxury sports car while intoxicated is back in the news.

The Bangkok Post recently reported that, after all these years, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is considering whether it mightlaunch an inquiry against at least 10 people for their alleged role in delaying justice…”. That means those officials who helped Boss and his associates tamper with witnesses and smooth his escape from the country to enjoy the high life on the lam.

It is not the NACC that has been investigating. According to spokesman Niwatchai Kasemmongkol it is the findings of an:

independent panel headed by former NACC member Vicha Mahakun [that] indicated a number of people, including several police officers and public prosecutors, played a big role in getting prosecutors to drop criminal charges against Mr Vorayuth.

That report was “taken up by a NACC sub-committee, which in turn recommended the NACC to launch a more detailed investigation into individuals which the Vicha panel believed had intentionally acted to derail the justice process.”

That’s the report. Will it do anything? Or is it just another stalling tactic? After all, as everyone knows, Vorayuth and his lawyers repeatedly postponed his court appearances before he fled abroad.

Vorayuth Red Bull

An AFP photo clipped from ChannelNews Asia

While Vorayuth was on the lam, “a speeding charge against him was dropped after its one-year statute of limitations expired in 2013…. Meanwhile, a second charge — failing to stop to help a crash victim — expired on Sept 3, 2017.”

Only a cocaine use charge and a reckless driving causing death charges remain. The former expires in September 2022 and the latter in 2027. Previously, the Office of the Attorney General had recommended dropping the reckless driving charge. It was the public outcry over that that saw Vicha’s panel put together.

Somehow, we feel that justice will never be served. In Thailand, for the rich, justice and injustice are commodities.





Updated: Judges and Toyota II

1 06 2021

Thailand’s judiciary is rotten. It is politically biased, engages in acts of double standards, and has been shown to be inhumane in its sentencing. Underneath all of this, it is corrupt, long “protected” by is association with the monarchy.

However, a bribery case in the USA and involving Toyota is shining a light on corruption alleged to be at the very top of the judiciary. For an earlier post on this developing case, see here.

About a week ago, Law 360’s Frank G. Runyeon reported that:Law360

“U.S. authorities are ramping up their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation of Toyota, with federal prosecutors impaneling a grand jury in Texas as they seek any evidence the carmaker bribed top Thai judges to overturn a $350 million tax judgment, according to a U.S. law enforcement official and documents related to the investigation.

Ongoing investigations by both the USA’s Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission are poring over documents from Toyota, which self-reported, an internal company investigation conducted by WilmerHale, presented to American authorities by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in April 2020.

Toyota suspected senior attorneys working for Toyota Motor Thailand “funneled bribes through a private Thai law firm to Thailand Supreme Court judges in an effort to influence the decision on a still-pending appeal of the tax judgment…”.

The grand jury proceedings are secret, but more details have been released regarding the internal investigation at Toyota:

The internal Toyota investigation found that TMT contracted with Annanon Law Office to help establish a backchannel to Thailand’s highest ranking judge via a former chief judge and an advisor, law enforcement documents show. TMT paid nearly $18 million on the $27 million contract, according to the documents, with $9 million to be paid if Toyota won the appeal, which relates to import taxes on Prius car parts.

Those potentially involved in the alleged bribery are named: “… Annanon law firm, … former Supreme Court of Thailand President Direk Ingkaninan and Supreme Court senior advisor Chaiyasit Trachutham…”. They were “to persuade high court president Slaikate Wattanapan to accept Toyota’s argument and have the court rule in its favor within a year, sometime after Slaikate’s term began in October 2019…”.

Runyeon reports that:

Thai government records indicate that around the time of the alleged bribery scheme Direk was a sitting senior judge and Slaikate was president of the Supreme Court. While the duration of Chaiyasit’s alleged tenure as a high court advisor is unclear, records show he was a senior judge on the Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases until at least October 2019…. Mr. Direk assisted TMT with the Prius case in the Primary Court and has been involved again in the current possible Supreme Court appeal.

Direk, 70, was the top ranking senior judge on the Supreme Court as of May 2020, government records show, and is eligible to serve until he ages out next September. Records show Chaiyasit, 70, reached mandatory retirement age in September 2020 after various judicial posts on Thailand’s appellate and supreme courts. Slaikate, 66, stepped down as Supreme Court president in September 2020, but retained senior judge status.

… The long-serving Toyota attorneys who law enforcement documents claim allegedly organized the scheme — General Manager Wichien Hirunmahapol, his deputy Sathit Tungjitpreechatai and Pornchai Saetachantana — left TMT in the midst of Toyota’s internal corruption probe and opened a boutique law firm, according to online biographies, the firm’s website and sources familiar with that investigation.

… A court official confirmed on Monday that Direk and Slaikate remain sitting senior judges on Thailand’s Supreme Court but did not immediately confirm Chaiyasit’s employment status. He referred Law360 back to an earlier public statement.

Soon after this report was noticed in Thailand, the Bangkok Post reported that the “Thai Court of Justice has vowed to take action against wrongdoers following a report the US Department of Justice is taking the Toyota bribery probe involving three top Thai judges to a grand jury.”

As always happens in such international cases of bribery and corruption, Thai authorities sought “information.”

Usually the “information is delayed, lost, misplaced for long enough that it fades away.

Suriyan Hongwilai, spokesman of the Court of Justice, stated that “if the Court of Justice found or could verify that the bribery had taken place, it would take disciplinary action, regardless of who the wrongdoers were or what positions they held by submitting the finding to the Judicial Commission.” He added that no one should “not to jump to conclusions before the cases were concluded in both countries.”

As we know, even if convicted of a crime in the US, the judges could turn to politics and become ministers.

LaughingAnother Law 360 report follows Suriyan’s media outing, claiming he stated that “[s]ince becoming aware of the matter, the Court of Justice has been trying to follow, verify, and gather all related information and facts both in the country and abroad…”. It seems they found nothing, knew nothing for Suriyan said: “Now that there has been a news report mentioning names and positions of some individuals, the Court of Justice will proceed to verify with the related affiliated agencies.” He added: “Further action would depend on the details of the obtained information…”.

It won’t be just PPT who will find such statements laughable. After all, as another Law 360 report says, it is “[m]ore than six months before Toyota disclosed concerns to U.S. authorities about possible foreign bribery in Thailand…” and two months since it was publicly reported.

Law360 says that the “protocol for the internal [Toyota] investigation was laid out in a 22-page document dated Sept. 30, 2019.” It was that document that “appeared to show that Toyota was concerned about possible corrupt payments to current and former Thailand Supreme Court judges, as well as to the country’s top finance and justice officials.”

It is stated that:

Toyota’s internal investigation focused on whether its employees made payments to any of eight Thai law firms or 12 individuals who may have played a role in the Prius litigation as the company was challenging the tax judgment in Thai courts. In addition to understanding if and how payments were made, the probe sought to confirm the amounts and whether any such payments were hidden, made indirectly, diverted to others, or “used or intended to be used for an improper purpose, and in particular, to influence the outcome of the Prius case.”

Another key question for reviewers was whether the recipients of any such payments had any connection to, influence over, or ex parte contact with sitting Thailand Supreme Court judges who might rule on Toyota’s case. WilmerHale also asked its team to flag any evidence that Toyota Motor Corp., the global parent company, knew about any “potentially improper payments to consultants.”

The response from the named judges began with threats of defamation cases. The aim was to keep their names out of reports in Thailand, including on social media. Isra News Agency reported:

that three Thai judges mentioned in a Law360 article about the possible bribery would ask the Court of Justice … to file a computer crime complaint with police to take legal action against those who mentioned them by name or shared such news on social media.

Thai PBS reports that “[f]ormer president of Thailand’s Appeals Court, Professor Chaiyasit Trachutham, has categorically denied allegations, reported by Law360, that he was among three senior judges implicated in Toyota Motors Thailand’s (TMT) bribery scandal.” He added that:

he was directly involved in the legal dispute between TMT and the Thai Customs Department, over import taxes on Toyota Prius hybrid cars,when he was a senior judge at the Appeals Court and was responsible for handling 10 case files…. After having carefully studied the case, he said that he felt that TMT had only a slim chance of winning the case….

The Bangkok Post reports that the Court of Justice moved a little further, and “has set up a 10-member panel to follow up on the Toyota bribery scandal…”. It was set up last Friday. So what the judiciary was doing before probably amounted to a hope that the story could be kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reported that “Salaikate Wattanaphan, former president of the Supreme Court, has [also] denied any involvement in the bribery case…”. He “insisted that since he wasn’t in a position to make any decisions on Toyota’s appeal against the Appeal Court’s ruling in the tax dispute case, it is impossible that he would be offered as much money as claimed.”

Salaikate said “he was president of the court back then but wasn’t directly involved in the decision.”He reckons “… accusations that senior judges were paid US$19 million and later US$27 million were sketchy … who would ever be silly enough to pay that much money to them while not knowing how the decision [on the appeal] would turn…”. It seems he’s semi-serious in this observation.

Meanwhile, cases against those mentioning the report and judges are moving faster than any investigation of the bribery allegations.

Update: How fast can a judge move when named in a corruption case? In the kill-the-messenger sprint, it is with Olympic record speed. The Bangkok Post reports that former Supreme Court president Direk Inkhaninan and Chaisit Trachutham, a former senior judge in the Appeal Court, have already “filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division against Law360, a US-based legal news website, for defamation.”





Us and Them

13 05 2021

Over the virus era there has been increasing attention to borders all around the world. Some places have had downright racist responses, such as in the new hermit kingdom, Australia.

In Thailand, recent attention has been to the “threat” posed by migrants. Quoting “medical professionals,” the Bangkok Post headlines: Porous borders ‘our biggest threat’

While we understand the borders “argument,” this approach encourages chauvinism and xenophobia. Think of the horrid decision to lock migrant workers in their poor housing a couple of months ago. At the same time, the borders threat argument actually obscures the real threat.

Saksayam

Virus minister. From The Nation

For PPT, that threat is from the rich and powerful. As far as we can tell, every major outbreak in Thailand has had a lot to do with these groups, acting with impunity. Even the most recent outbreak in Bangkok has been tracked to the bars frequented by the wealthy Bangkok, attended by the high and mighty, including ministers and ambassadors. The former has seen a Ministry of Transport cluster.

As we look back at other clusters, they result from corrupt military (boxing stadiums) and other corrupt practices from the past that have continued during the virus crisis (gambling and people trafficking). Such activities have always required official “support” and have long made officials wealthy.

Migrant workers are critical for some important industries in Thailand; industries that generate enormous profits:

An estimated 400,000 migrants work in Thailand’s seafood processing sector in the province of Samut Sakhorn. Thailand produces approximately 40 per cent of global canned tuna, as well as frozen shrimp and other seafood products.

Trafficking migrants and greasing the wheels of bureaucracy generate wealth to police and bureaucrats. The military has long been involved in this business. This means the threat to Thailand is from those who rule and profit with impunity.





One of the cover-ups

7 04 2021

Over the past couple of days, PPT has posted on a corruption story that the regime and judiciary hope will quickly disappear, fade away and be covered-up. Such publicity just holds up the money making that comes with office under a military-backed regime.

Interestingly, it is reported that one of the regime’s cover-ups has received some new attention, with “[a]nti-human trafficking advocates are calling on the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to indict the owner of the Victoria Secret brothel for human trafficking…”.

The Victoria Secret massage parlor case “was raided on Jan 12, 2018 and it was later revealed that minors and migrant workers had been forced to become sex workers on the premises.”

Like the Boss case involving the Red Bull scion, the owner of the parlor – said to be Kampol Wirathepsuporn – went into hiding.

The big story of the time, for us, anyway, was the link to top cops. Indeed, junta-appointed police chief Gen  Somyos Pumpanmuang, who went on to become head of the Thailand Football Association, was close to Kampol. Under pressure, In the moneySomyos revealed that he had borrowed a huge sum of money from Kampol.

Gen Somyos “explained” that he and the massage parlor owner were “friends and of course friends do help each other. I was in trouble and asked him for help several times.” One of those bits of “help” was a 300 million baht “loan” from the flesh trader.

Clearly the “help” was useful, for when he retired as Thailand’s top cop, he was one of the country’s wealthiest policemen.  He reported assets of 375 million baht back in 2014 when he joined one of the junta’s sham legislatures.

That’s how corruption cases tend to go for junta buddies – nothing much happens, apart from the covering up.





Corrupt justices, corrupt regime

6 04 2021

Yesterday, PPT posted on a possible corruption case involving “current and former Thailand Supreme Court judges, as well as to the country’s top finance and justice officials…”.

Such a bombshell has received muffled attention and another cover-up might be expected. Even so, as the Bangkok Post reports, the Courts of Justice have felt compelled to provide a comment, although it is of the usual slippery variety, telling the taxpaying public that “they will take action against any judges found to have taken bribes linked to a tax dispute involving a Thai subsidiary of automaker Toyota.”

Well, maybe, for the claims are dismissed: “the office said claims without grounds that judges involved with bribery often happen during legal disputes.” Such claims were described as “bogus.” In other words, like Mafia dons they say “forget about it.”

Helpfully, Suriyan Hongvilai, spokesman of the Office of the Judiciary, “explains” that:

… the case in the focus involves a tax dispute worth about 10 billion baht between Toyota Motor Thailand Co (TMT) and tax authorities over the imports of parts for Prius cars.

He said the Supreme Court’s decision to review the dispute was announced on March 29 and the case is now pending hearings and has yet to be finalised.

He urged the public to investigate and not to rush to conclusions when bribery allegations against judges emerge.

“The Supreme Court has yet to hear and rule on the case. It just agreed to hear it and the granting of the request is line with laws which allow the Supreme Court to hear the case when it sees fit,” he said.

So, the Supreme Court decided to “review the dispute” and announced this on 29 March, the very day that Law 360 published the story “Toyota Probed Possible Bribes To Top Thai Judges.” That was just 10 days after the first media report of the Toyota case. How convenient.

The clarification is in response to foreign media reports.

Thailand’s Mafia dons also appear in a separate Bangkok Post report.

Palang Pracharath Party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has thrown his and his party’s “support behind former national police chief [Gen] Chakthip Chaijinda for the upcoming Bangkok governor election…”. The junta appointed the sitting governor, also a former top cop, and Gen Prawit expects to be able to maintain that control.

To get the job done, Gen Prawit has reportedly assigned Mafia boss, convicted heroin trafficker, and moneybags, Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompao to arrange the election for the party.

That’s a neat idea: a former felon will assist a former top cop. Cops are used to dealing with “dark influences” in Thailand, often working in partnership for mutual wealth creation.

One of the outcomes of coup and military dictatorship has been the alliance of the twin evils of dark influences and dark power.





Judges and Toyota I

5 04 2021

At the end of March, Law 360 published the story “Toyota Probed Possible Bribes To Top Thai Judges,” written by Frank G. Runyeon. It is a story about Toyota investigating and reporting itself on possible corruption in Thailand.

It took more than six months of internal investigation “before Toyota disclosed concerns to U.S. authorities…” in April 2020.

It found that “its consultants paid off Thai judges and government officials in an effort to overturn a $350 million import tax judgment related to its Prius cars…”. The report states:

… documents obtained exclusively by Law360 and court filings in a related case show the company previously conducted its own investigation led by counsel at WilmerHale. Code-named “Project Jack,” it sought to determine whether Toyota Motor Thailand violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or the U.K. Bribery Act by making payments to outside law firms or consultants that may have been passed to or shared with Thai judges, court advisers or others in an effort to secure a favorable outcome in the Prius tax case….

Titled “TMC Thailand Inquiry: Background & Protocol for Document Review,” the guidelines were distributed to several teams of reviewers poring over millions of company documents dating back to 2012 with help from more than a dozen attorneys and translators. The protocol appeared to show that Toyota was concerned about possible corrupt payments to current and former Thailand Supreme Court judges, as well as to the country’s top finance and justice officials….

In the Prius matter, Thai customs officials had accused Toyota of shorting the government 11 billion baht, or about $350 million today, in import taxes over a two-year period because the company did not use Thai assembly lines to build Prius cars there and instead imported pre-assembled cars, according to a WilmerHale case summary. A loss for Toyota would make its import tax obligation skyrocket from 10% to 80% of the cars’ value.

Back then, Toyota challenged the tax judgment in the courts. Its investigation was to determine “if and how payments were made,” and also “sought to confirm the amounts and whether any such payments were hidden, made indirectly, diverted to others,” ore were otherwise illegally made.

In particular, a “key question for reviewers was whether the recipients of any such payments had any connection to, influence over, or ex parte contact with sitting Thailand Supreme Court judges who might rule on Toyota’s case.”

We guess the next question is whether this case will go the way of the Rolls Royce corruption when some $18.8 million was alleged to have been paid by Rolls-Royce to “regional intermediaries” and ended up in the pockets of “agents of the State of Thailand and employees of Thai Airways…”.





Money for nothing

8 03 2021

Being a general in Thailand confers power and wealth. A general can amass huge wealth with seldom any investigation of that “unusual” wealth , can use slave conscripts around the house, might get free housing, electricity and water for years and decades, and can even murder with impunity. After all, for decades now the military has run the lucrative game show that is Thailand’s government.

In what has become an annual ritual, the Royal Thai Armed Forces have announced that they plan to slim down the number of generals and especially those who do nothing more than whack golf balls on military courses and collect the benefits.

The linked report states:

According to the Defence Ministry, out of the total, 400 generals work in the Royal Thai Army (RTA), 250 in the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), 190 in the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), 250 in the RTARF and 300 in the Office of the Permanent Secretary of Defence.

As these numbers seem rounded, we suspect there are more of these suckers of the taxpayer teat.

The report says the “armed forces are embarking on an ambitious programme to trim the number of generals in its ranks by 25% by 2029, amid doubts that the plan will ever come to fruition.” There’s reasons to be cynical as the same claim is made every year and then drifts off into the mists of corruption and grasping.

In the coming year, the “target” ain’t that “ambitious” at 5-10%, but that will not be achieved.

One of the scams is explained:

Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich insisted the downsizing of the armed forces actually started when the cabinet approved the employment of civilians in the Defence Ministry in June last year.

Under the scheme, those recruited by the military to serve in certain fields such as medicine, law, accounting or administrative affairs are not given military ranks, he said.

So there’s no downsizing. Gobbling up loot, “protecting” a ridiculous neo-feudalism, and repressing political opponents of the whole corrupt system is too important and too lucrative.