Open letter to US ambassador from Chatwadee Rose Amornpat

2 12 2015

RoseAmornpat has written the following open letter to the US Ambassador Glyn Davies. PPT reproduces it with a few edits by us to fix a few typos in our original post:

November 30, 2015
Honorable Ambassador Glyn T. Davies
The United States EmbassyRose
120-22 Wireless Road
Bangkok 10330, Thailand

Dear Ambassador Davies:

We wish to dispute Thai junta’s controlled media apparatus as well as its leaders, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha and Gen. Pravit Wongsuwan for declaring that the U.S. government was meddling in its political affairs and that “Thai people have been hurt” by remarks concerning their barbaric lese majeste law or Article 112 of their Criminal Code.

Right-wing royalists have employed the same old line in justifying their illegal actions such as the frequent coup d’ etat, imposition of martial law or the current Article 44 which gives unlimited power to the junta chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha.

We are pleased to note that U.S. groups and government are taking seriously various violations of codes by the military junta.

Thai elites have been very ungrateful to your government for a long time for the billion dollars worth of aid the U.S. has given Thailand over a long period of time. As a slap in the face, Thai junta embraces China in their current foreign policy.

We also wish to suggest that the United States should impose more severe economic sanctions against Thailand and travel restrictions on junta leaders to the U.S. and allies’ countries. If possible, please remove Thailand from the list of “Most Favored Nations” in terms of importation of Thai goods, unless Article 44 abrogated and political prisoners released.

We also wish to inform you a very important issue which is one of the major root causes of all of Thailand’s problems and their very slow democratic process is their despicable Article 112 of their Criminal Code. This is also called the lese majeste law which prohibits people from making any comments or constructive criticism of the Thai king, even if such comments are based on the truth.

This unjust lese majeste law has effectively silenced Thai people from speaking their mind. Once convicted, it also breaks up families and loved ones for years and years. Ninety-nine percent of the accused will be convicted by the Thai military court. This is so barbaric now, because ordinary Thai people are forced to appear in a military court! The trial is often a closed court session with no media allowed. Alleged prisoners of Article 112 will be sent to Thai jail from 3 to 15 years for each offense.

Hundreds are now in jails throughout Thailand. Some are now serving 10 or 20 years sentence. This is a travesty of justice. They are not criminals but brave individuals who dare to speak against this barbaric and unjust law and those who benefit by it!

For example, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in jail on lese majeste charges on 28 August 2009. That trial, conducted in secret in a closed court, saw her receive 6 years for each of three comments she made speaking to a political rally. The case made a mockery of Thailand’s judicial processes. She’s been in Thai prison since 22 July 2008 and is in poor health.

Darunee is now suffering from an acute gum infection and yet the prison warden refused her proper medical treatments! This is a way to further torture her for criticizing the so-called “Father of the Nation.” It is believed that by maltreating her on purpose that she would finally confess one day and seek pardon from the Thai king. So far, Darunee refuses to admit that she did anything wrong.

Another 112 prisoner worth mentioning here is the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a former editor of a pro-democracy magazine who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for publishing an article deemed lese majeste. He, too, refuses to admit that he did anything wrong and is now in his 5th year in prison.

For a list of  112 prisoners, click here.

Article 112 or lese majeste prisoners are badly treated by fellow prisoners as well. On any royal holidays, all prisoners are routinely given a reduction of prison time except 112 prisoners who have to serve full terms. On the upcoming King’s Birthday on December 5th, all criminal prisoners and their family are looking forward to the release or reduction of jail time. Sadly, lese majeste violators will likely not be granted any leniency. In fact, they should not have been in jail in the first place, because they all expressed their comments about the royals in a peaceful manner.

Anyone can file the lese majeste charge against anyone and the police are required to investigate and often complete the process all the way to the court. Failure to do so will have serious repercussion to the investigating officers.

Even though the king said in his speech in 2005 that he disagrees with this law, but he has not done a thing to abolish it either. He has all the power within him to do so. But nothing was done so far.

This very uncivilized and unjust law gives the Thai monarchy unlimited power to do anything for their own interest and prosperity! The king’s investment arm of Crown Property Bureau (CPB) is the largest owner of all the prime property in Bangkok and the major shareholder of the Stock Exchange of Thailand! The king himself is the richest monarch in the world ranked by Forbes magazine 7 years in a row. At the same time, Thai children are still begging or selling garlands in the streets of Bangkok in order to help their family. These children should be in school, not selling garlands or flowers in the streets!

Poor families are forced to sell their daughters for prostitution. Slave wages are the norm in most factories. Intelligent Thai men and women have to flee the country, because they commented on or revealed too much about the secrets of the monarchy.

No one can question how CPB became so rich and powerful. No one can question its books and whether or not CPB pays any taxes. This is off the public record.

The royals claim the wealth and its assets belong to the people. But we have not seen any substantial monetary contributions to help the poor coming from CPB during the past 60 years! Even the royal projects are paid for by taxpayers.

Because of this law, Thailand has, so far, 19 coup d’ etat’s including the recent one in May 22, 2014! Thai king endorses and approves the coups and then pardons the coup makers!

Even all the past prime ministers of Thailand did not dare to question the suitability and viability of this law! Most politicians, academics, critics and foreign journalists all ignore this subject for fear of going to jail, because of the evil nature of Article 112! Any suggestion or slight hint of revising the law would certainly be subject to lese majeste charge!

Thai people are held hostages by this evil law!

United States must lead in calling for the abolition of this very unjust law or Thailand will continue to face economic sanctions. The great countries of the EU, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and all the Southeast Asian nations must be united and impose sanctions until Thailand and Thai monarchy abolish such a barbaric law!

This law is not an internal affair of Thailand. It is the affair of the world and every peace-loving and democratic citizen of the world is obligated to tell Thai king, enough is enough!

Thai royalists including royalist mass media often tell the world that Thai king is so well-loved by the people. This is a untrue! Please demand they abolish the lese majeste law and see if this claim is still true or not.

Last but not least, the Cold War was over a long time ago. There is no threat of Communism any more. We understand the U.S. government during the Vietnam War created the power of the King in order to serve as a beachhead against Communist China. But now, China is acting more like a big Capitalist and the U.S. or any democratic countries do not need Thai monarchy anymore. Thai people are craving a true democracy, not a warped democracy like Thailand with the so-called “with king as head of state” who is in fact a very bad dictator in disguise.

The Thai people do not need the monarchy which taxpayers have to support them at the sum of $500 million dollars a year, even though Thai monarch is the richest in the world.

Thai monarchy is now very unpopular and hated by most Thai people. Only a handful from the rich elite  still love the monarchy, because they share their mutual business interests.

We, the voiceless Thai people, in and outside Thailand, wish to express our deepest gratitude for your comments at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on November 25, 2015.

Thank you.

Chatwadee Rose Amornpat

The last Thai king?

15 11 2015

A few days ago we linked to a PDF we have had at the site for several years. In the current circumstances, and with its resonances for the current period, we feel it appropriate to make the text of the 1978 document available without having to download a PDF that might get people into trouble in royalist Thailand. Here it is, as it appeared under the title listed above:King

When King Rama I, founder of Thailand’s present dynasty, laid the cornerstone for the Bangkok Palace, he had to choose between two dates for the ceremony. According to the royal astronomer, one date would assure the dynasty a long life — through nine kings — at the cost of widespread popular suffering, The other date promised the country’s people a peaceful and prosperous life, but it also carried the prediction that the dynasty would last for only a few kings. After due consideration, Rama I laid the palace cornerstone on the date which favored the longevity of the dynasty. Today’s King Bhumipol, who believes profoundly in the wisdom of astronomers, is the ninth king in the dynasty founded by Rama I. On August 17, 1976, an astronomer told King Bhumipol that he could prolong the life of the dynasty by killing 30,000 people, with September and October as auspicious months for the massacre. Although the death toll on October 6 was nowhere near 30,000, the savagery of the coup, much of it carried out by the royal-sponsored Village Scouts, was unprecedented in recent Thai history.

Frequently described as above politics and beloved by all Thais, the Royal Family actually has powerful economic reasons for opposing any radical changes in the status quo. In addition to owning vast areas of land – and collecting rent on them – the Royal Family is deeply involved in Thailand’s capitalist economy. It holds shares in leading banks – which are under royal patronage – and industries, including Firestone Rubber, and it enjoys special privileges in exporting the products of royal lands. The Crown Property Bureau is the richest organization in Thailand, and the King’s Personal Property Office accounts for the highest personal income in the country. All of this was threatened by the events of 1973-76, forcing the Royal Family to enter the political arena directly and forfeit its image of benign detachment.

Phoo Phaakpboom, The Present King and the Coup d’Etat (unpublished)

Money for royals

3 10 2015

Not that long ago, a New York Times story had it that the taxpayer under the military dictatorship was forking out $540 million on promoting and protecting the monarchy, massively increased from the already enormous $350 million of 2013. That’s in addition to any deals done with individual royals, the Crown Property Bureau and any additional funds that are allocated after the budget is drawn up.

In other words, the monarchy and individual royals do very nicely indeed, leeching off the taxpayer and the state.

What we did not realize is that these privileged, wealthy and pampered royals also draw salaries from the ridiculous ceremonial positions they hold. Yes, we know they charge students for the “honor” of a diploma being handed to them and that posterior polishers throw money at them, but we hadn’t known that they get paid for being generals, admiral and air chief marshals.

In a Khaosod report it is stated that Princess Sirindhorn, who has just “left her teaching post at the Chulalomklao Royal Military Academy, has been paid a salary of 26 million baht over 35 years. Sirindhorn and golden mikes

Khaosod is able to report this because the academy director, General Charnchai Yotsundhorn waxed grateful that the stupendously royal employee had decided to give the salary back. Not immediately, but on an installment plan, beginning with 7 million baht as a first installment.

Charnchai was “infinitely grateful to Her Royal Highness…”, but failed to explain why she took the salary for 35 years and why she can’t give it all back now.

Khaosod states that the “monarchy has a close relationship with the military, with prominent members of the Royal Family holding military ranks or posts in the armed forces.” This caused us to wonder if all the other royals with ceremonial ranks were pocketing taxpayer tips? We guess they are: king, queen, prince and several princesses perhaps. We wonder if the recently departed poodle Fu Fu, which had rank in the military, was also paid a salary?

Insider deals

26 09 2015

One of the benefits of being the largest business conglomerate in the country is that the special deals can always be done.

The largest conglomerate is the murky Crown Property Bureau. With relatively little information available (the latest effort is again by Porphant Ouyyanont, reviewed here), there are occasional reports that provide small insights into the elite-level machinations around CPB activities.

In recent days, the seemingly confusing reports on the grand failure of Sahaviriya Steel Industries in the U.K. investment taken not that long ago, have included some information about the CPB. SSI’s Board of Directors includes, apart from those of the Viriyaprapaikit family, includes a clutch of old men from state enterprises and some with strong links to the CPB.CrownProperty

SSI’s problems in the U.K. have had repercussions for several Thai banks and investors. A major impact has been for gems of the CPB, the Siam Commercial Bank and the Siam Cement Group.

Reuters reports that the Siam Commercial Bank has been forced to sell its stake in Siam Cement Group to raise “4.46 billion baht ($122.76 million) to help to cover provisions for loans to struggling steel firm.”

SCB is “one of three main creditors that lent SSI money to buy Britain’s second-largest steelmaker in early 2011. But a sharp drop in international steel prices forced SSI to halt production last week at its British plant in Redcar in northeast England.” The other two are Krung Thai Bank and Tisco Bank. The report is that the three banks are “working on restructuring around 50 billion baht ($1.4 billion) of SSI’s debt.”

The SCB has been forced to dispose of “some of its foreign investments to meet a target of raising 7-8 billion baht ($192.78 million-$220.32 million) toward SSI loan provisions of 10-11 billion baht.”

In addition, its Siam Cement sale “is included in the 7-8 billion baht target. The shortfall will come from SCB’s earnings.”

No prizes for guessing how the CPB has handled this crisis: “The Siam Cement shares were sold to the Crown Property Bureau which is already a major shareholder in Thailand’s biggest cement firm…. The Bureau also owns a 21.3 percent stake in Siam Commercial Bank.”

This set of inside deals is passed off as somehow normal: “We sold all our holding in Siam Cement to the Crown Property Bureau…. The Crown Property Bureau wanted to raise its stakes in Siam Cement. So, the shares changed hands in the same investor group.”

None of us at PPT are investors or economists so we can only wonder about these trades within groups and their lack of transparency. We can guess that the CPB is shaking a bit from the dealing that has been imposed on it.


Rich still doing very well

6 06 2015

Forbes has published its latest Thailand Rich List. There are no real surprises for the mega-rich in Thailand continue to do well through political instability and military coup. The ranking of Thailand’s 50 richest is available from Forbes.

CP’s agribusiness tycoon, the aging Dhanin Chearavanont, is the country’s richest man with a net worth of US$14.4 billion. Next is beverages and land tycoon, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi,with a net worth of $13 billion. moneybags

The list does not include the monarchy, which is covered in another Forbes listing. The monarchy’s combined wealth, which is mostly managed by the Crown Property Bureau, is variously estimated at $40-50 billion. This is equivalent to the total combined wealth of the top 3-4 tycoons in this Forbes list.

Most of those on the list have close connections to the palace, although they are big enough to split their bets when there is political agitation. As we noted last year, since 2011, the assets of the mega-rich have increased very substantially, and this has continued in this listing.

Thaksin Shinawatra and his family ranked 10th, as they were in the last listing, with the same combined assets:

Dhanin Chearavanont; US$14.4 billion
Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi; $13 billion
Chirathivat family; $12.3 billion
Chalerm Yoovidhya; $9.6 billion
Krit Ratanarak; $4.7 billion
Vanich Chaiyawan; $3.95 billion
Santi Bhirombhakdi; $2.9 billion
Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth; $2.8 billion
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha; $2.5 billion
Thaksin Shinawatra; $1.7 billion

Forbes states: “This list was compiled using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges and analysts, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and regulatory agencies.” It is not clear whether it includes land holdings.

A seminar on the Crown Property Bureau

15 04 2015

PPT understand that material from Asia Sentinel is sometimes blocked in Thailand, especially if it contains royal news. This means that the new article “Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau: Economic Brake?” is blocked.

By an anonymous correspondent, the article reports on a seminar in March at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore [opens a PDF adverting the seminar]. The headline story is that academic Porphant Ouyyanont reckons that Crown Property Bureau “is the elephant in the country’s economic room, controlling a full 15 percent of its economy and, … acting as a significant brake on economic growth.”

Porphant is reported as stating that “… the quality of Thai capitalist firms has remained poor as most economic growth has stemmed from the monopoly of major Thai business firms tied to the CPB…. This has resulted in low-value added economic performance coupled with high barriers to entry for new businesses, thus keeping small businesses stagnant and undeveloped.”

The claim in the article that the Crown Property Bureau is not held by the royal family “and doesn’t belong to the king although it manages the king’s property” is, we think true but also misleading. Legally, this is the position put by defenders of the bloated CPB and the monarchy. Practically, though, with the king appointing six of members of the bureau’s governing board, and the power of the CPB having reverted to the king years ago, the CPB is effectively held by the royal family.

The related claim that the CPB “pays no taxes” is also true but also misleading. Many of the CPB largest stock holdings are in public firms, and as far as PPT is aware, these firms pay taxes. What isn’t taxed are other holdings, including the huge land holdings. Proposals to implement a property tax exclude the CPB and other royal holdings.

The article also states that the “most complete record of the bureau is contained in The King Never Smiles, an authoritative biography of King Bhumibol…”. We think this is also misleading and would direct readers to Porphant’s own 2008 study, but which is behind a paywall. Readers without access might find the  update he did for his bit in the sanitized big book biography [downloads a PDF that is not banned in Thailand] of some use.

Lese majeste in temple dispute

8 04 2015

Lese majeste is a political crime and under the military dictatorship this use of the draconian law has been substantially enhanced. It has also been used to destroy the family of the estranged wife of Prince Vajiralongkorn. In he past, we have also noted the law being used for other personal disputes.

A recent instance that appears tho fit the personal category has been reported at The Nation. In that report, several complainants have gone to the police to urge them ” to investigate if a recent comment made to media by the Wat Kalayanamit’s chief adviser, Watchara Phromcharoen, violated the Criminal Code’s Section 112 regarding lese majeste.” Claiming to be descendents of the founders of Wat Kalayanamit in Thon Buri, some “30 residents presented to Bupparam police the evidence, including a CD record of the televised programme ‘Kom Chad Luek’ on Nation TV on March 19.”

Watchara was a phone-in guest who provided information about a temple restoration project, and claimed these were “carried out under the auspices of the Crown Property Bureau.” The police have been urged police to investigate if Watchara’s comment “was tantamount to lese majeste.”

Of course, the CPB is not included in the jurisdiction of the lese majeste law. But that doesn’t seem to bother the complainants. They are miffed because they say the “renovations at the temple destroy our good memories and the history of our family legacy so …[we] can’t accept it and will fight [via legal actions] until the end…”. Some of the temple’s residents have been fighting eviction. But does this warrant lese majeste accusations?

The Department of Fine Arts confirmed “that the temple’s renovation of four buildings – which had received DFA approval – was under Crown Property Bureau sponsorship since 2011 but he said the temple carried out renovation on 22 items in the compound. The DFA had filed 15 cases against it; 10 cases have been dropped by public prosecutors but five cases were ongoing. He said the DFA would ask the temple to demolish new unauthorised structures this month.” Renovation is currently postponed.

Lese majeste seems to be a law for all seasons, all disputes and all people. This is the result of monarchy madness and mad monarchists.