Tax evaders, tycoons and the palace

3 04 2017

When the subject of tax comes up, one thing can always be taken for granted in Thailand: the elite will not lose anything for they are skilled tax minimizers and evaders.

In the Bangkok Post to day there are a couple of stories that can be brought together. First, we have news that “[e]vading taxes worth 10 million baht or more, or fraudulently filing for tax refunds of 2 million baht or more through collusion, shall be considered a money-laundering offence…” under a new law.

The notion that tax evasion is money laundering strikes us as strange, but you get the picture. The tax authorities want to be seen as going after tax evaders, something they have never done much of in the past, except in politicized cases.

So, we should see the Revenue Department go after “politicians” from previous regimes. We should also expect that the Department will examine the taxation records of the unusually wealthy who report huge wealth when they get junta perk positions. We can be pretty certain none of them paid tax on it.

That set us thinking. What about Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang? He is now head of the Thailand Football Association,  had long business relationships with mining companies, and at the time of his retirement as Thailand’s top cop, was one of its wealthiest policemen. Somyos was known to have ordered police to support companies he had previously worked with. He was so wealthy that he gave rewards to cops out of his own bag of money. Has he ever been taxed?

We can also wonder whether the 50,000 baht a month that was claimed and then unclaimed as income by metropolitan police chief Pol. Lt. Gen. Sanit Mahathavorn  was ever taxed? The lucky Sanit was on the payroll of the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc owned by one of Thailand’s wealthiest Sino-Thai tycoons, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. Sanit’s total income was also claimed to be mammoth. Was that taxed?

While on companies and wealth, we wonder how much tax is paid by Charoen and his other fabulously wealthy fellow tycoons? They get great business deals from the corrupt state and from their unusual relationships, but how much do they “give back”? And we don’t mean the piddling corporate social responsibility ruses, we mean real tax.

Readers might recall the contract for the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center which went, without going to a bid or to any significant renegotiation, to N.C.C. Management & Development Co., a company in the gargantuan business empire of Charoen, reputedly worth almost $14 billion. Naturally, he’s also close to the palace.

Which brings us to another Bangkok Post story. Charoen has revealed “plans to develop a new mixed-use project to be called ‘One Bangkok’ on the 104-rai of land that formerly housed Suan Lum Night Bazaar on the corner of Witthayu and Rama IV roads.”

It seems odd that the “development will be joint venture by two companies owned by Mr Charoen, TCC Assets (Thailand) Co and Frasers Centrepoint Limited (FCL).” There must be a tax deal there somewhere.

The mammoth development will be on a lease the “TCC Group secured … from the Crown Property Bureau in 2014.”

Before the site was the Suan Lum Night Bazaar from 2001 to 2011, it was the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, established in 1958 “next to Lumphini Park in Bangkok…”. It moved in 2000, and allowed the tacky Night Bazaar to be built. Now, how did that land get back to the CPB? Was the military paying a peppercorn rent? Or was it “returned” to the CPB as so many other properties were. Did the CPB pay any taxes?

These deals can be exceptionally lucrative. Princess Sirindhorn is estimated to personally rake in about $54 million a year from the property she owns around the Siam-Rajaprasong area, and we know she isn’t paying tax.

Tycoons as royalists and royals, along with their helpers in the senior reaches of the civil and military bureaucracies don’t ever seem to be “threatened” with taxation.





Be very, very careful

28 11 2016

A reader sent PPT a link to a report by an Australian journalist based in Bangkok and presented at the ABC’s Correspondent’s Report on the weekend. It’s an audio report that comes with this introduction at the website:

The death of Thailand’s revered King last month will be remembered as a turning point in the country’s history.

It’s also a topic that’s difficult to cover as a journalist, given Thailand’s extremely harsh laws against royal defamation.

A new official version of the royal anthem, sung by tens of thousands of Thais outside the palace, is the latest talking point.

Our South-East Asia correspondent, Liam Cochrane, reports from Bangkok.

There’s still some blarney in the report yet it is mainly about lese majeste censorship and self-censorship associated with monarchy, the Crown Property Bureau, the late king and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The fear the journalist feels is palpable.





Updated: A princely sum

21 11 2016

Since the king died, there have been a spate of stories on Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, most of them negative.

In a Wall Street Journal story a couple of days ago, the focus is on the huge wealth the new monarch will inherit: “Thailand’s crown prince won’t only succeed his father as king. He will also inherit the keys to one of the world’s largest royal fortunes.”

Yes, the junta will come out and complain that the Crown Property Bureau doesn’t belong to the king/queen, but to the “institution.” It matters not, for the management is almost entirely with royal flunkies dedicated to obeying. That’s not to say that government doesn’t have a stake in it.

The WSJ states:

The multibillion-dollar wealth of the Thai crown is rarely discussed in the country. Strict lèse-majesté laws, which criminalize any criticism of the monarchy, make many reluctant to study or debate the matter, especially now, just a month after the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct. 13.

In the coming weeks, though, the fortune will pass into the control of an untested heir who has lived much of his life overseas. How Crown Prince … Vajiralongkorn administers it, and especially the investments in the Crown Property Bureau, is one of the most significant questions in a country where the ruling military junta has seized power twice in the past decade, in part to make sure the royal succession goes smoothly.

It says the “crown’s assets and corporate holdings are valued at over $40 billion, according to one study, more than the wealth of Britain’s royal family or the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Its glittering royal regalia includes the world’s largest cut diamond, a golden conical crown and a fly whisk made from the tail hair of an albino elephant.”

Throw in the royal’s private wealth and the public money showered on it and “protecting” it, and this is a fat, extravagant and avaricious family.

The 70-year-long reign of the dead king was one that built power, economic and political. The CPB “became a powerful cash-spinning conglomerate and one of the most influential levers in the Thai economy.” Annual income from the CPB is reported to have grown from 563 million baht in 1987 to more than more than 1.15 billion in 2015.https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=44510&action=edit

The prince has expenses. The WSJ states that “[i]n late 2014, for instance, the finance ministry said the bureau made a 200 million baht, or $5.64 million, divorce payment, to 64-year-old Prince Vajiralongkorn’s most recent spouse.”

Given the prince’s previous behavior and the fact that all of her family is locked up and she’s hardly seen, somehow we doubt this. Even so, his international travel and living expenses are likely to be a far greater drain on the CPB than it has seen in earlier years. But who really knows? It is all a secret.

Update: Southeast Asia Globe has a story about inheritance tax in Bavaria. The prince maintains a residence in Bavaria and spends quite a lot of time there on the banks of Lake Starnberg and the story says he will be up for this tax. The story estimates it as $3.5 billion, based on reports of the assets of the CPB. An intersting claim, especially when one palace watcher says that the (military) government will pay it for him. We doubt this. The official blarney about the CPB has long been that it doesn’t personally belong to the king.





Following the money

17 10 2016

In an earlier post, PPT drew attention to France 24 and an AFP story that “follows the money.” The story noted that the dead king left “one of the world’s richest monarchies, with a multi-billion-dollar empire spanning property, construction and banks.” Some say the Crown Property Bureau is worth almost $60 billion and each of the royals is individually wealthy while also soaking up taxpayer funds. If there is a competition for the top spot, and there might still be, then there are plenty of spoils for the winner/s.

On this theme of following the money, there are a couple of other stories worth considering. One is a report at AP. It begins:

Thailand’s king, who died Thursday, was reputed to be the world’s richest royal and one of the wealthiest people on the planet.

It was a status that clashed with the carefully managed image of a monarch intensely concerned for his people’s welfare and one that Thai authorities were always anxious to correct.

But try as officials might, there was no escaping that Thailand’s monarchy, embodied for 70 years by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was a fabulously wealthy institution in a country where the widening gap between an affluent Bangkok and a poor but well populated countryside fueled years of political conflict.

The CPB “has estimated revenue of $2.5 billion to $3 billion a year, from which part of the royal family’s expenses are paid.” Huge amounts come from taxpayers, last estimated at 18 billion baht for 2016 (we can expect this to balloon for the funeral).

The story also makes this point: “The roots of the Thai monarchy’s enormous wealth lie in the privilege and power enjoyed in the pre-1932 era of absolute kingship.” That’s true, especially for property. However, the largely untold story is how the ninth reign was able to get it all under its control and was able to multiply its wealth so spectacularly. The closest thing we have to an account of this is Christine Gray’s mammoth doctoral dissertation Thailand – The Soteriological State in the 1970s.

The other article is a post at New Mandala, which has a swathe of articles following the king’s death. In Death of a monarch or an oligarch? T.F. Rhoden discusses the centrality of the monarchy for what he identifies as an oligarchy in Thailand. He says the king was the “top oligarch.”

 





Updated:Commentary on the recent and next monarchy II

16 10 2016

A few more interesting articles have come out since our earlier post.

New Mandala has two further posts worthy of attention. One is by Christine Gray who writes about the censorship involved in writing about the monarchy. She sees the end of the reign as a chance for positive change but also an opportunity for violence, more censorship and a broth of blood.

Another New Mandala piece by anthropologist Edoardo Siani and historian Matthew Phillips. Unlike the largely trite and treacly journalism of the last couple of days, reflecting decades of subservience to palace propaganda, this post makes some excellent and important observations that go beyond grief and tears.

An oddity in the media is from the SCMP, about the Sino-Thai response to the king’s death. Writing about ethnic Chinese almost seems a throwback to decades past. That said, the king was half Chinese and he played a role in ensuring the loyalty of millions of Chinese congregated around Bangkok. Some of the views expressed are not necessarily in line with the treacly reports mentioned above.

The prince continues to be the focus of most of the critical stories that have become available. A quite extensive story at the New York Times by Alison Smale and Thomas Fuller. Readers will know many of the details of the story yet they are put together in an informative manner, including details from the little German town of Tutzing, on Lake Starnberg, where the prince appears to prefer to reside.

We noticed the comments of former foreign minister Kasit Piromya on the queenly qualifications of the prince’s current spouse, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya: “She’s an air hostess, very lively, highly intelligent…. She can ski, she can bike. She loves music. She knows what is good wine in Italy.”

The Wall Street Journal had an earlier report we initially missed, on the prince. There’s much well-known stuff – maybe WSJ readers need background – but also some nuggets:

Some people familiar with the situation say he is familiarizing himself with the workings of the Crown Property Bureau, one of the country’s most important landowners and the holding vehicle for much for the monarchy’s wealth.

To say the least, that is certainly an interesting observation.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a very important “note” titled “WHAT’S GOING ON IN THAILAND? Confusion reigns as crown prince waits.” Well worth a read.





Commentary on the recent and next monarchy I

15 10 2016

Assuming that the monarchy continues in one form or another, there’s some interesting commentary sparked by the king’s death. (The end of the monarchy following the 9th reign has been a prophesy heard previously – clicking the link downloads a PDF considered illegal in Thailand.)

Of course, there’s lots of hagiography too, reporting much that has been said about the king previously. A quick look at any news source in Thailand shows only this kind of reporting. Claims that the king was above politics and a force for stability were criticized years ago, as can be seen in the PDF linked above.

Here is some of the more interesting material currently available:

France 24 has an AFP story that “follows the money,” with a story on “one of the world’s richest monarchies, with a multi-billion-dollar empire spanning property, construction and banks.” One estimate is that the Crown Property Bureau is worth almost $60 billion. PPT would add that each of the royals is individually wealthy and each of them sponges off the taxpayer as well, so this is a fabulously wealthy capitalist conglomerate. If there is a competition for the top spot, then there are plenty of spoils for the winner/s.

The king’s unauthorized biographer Paul Handley has an op-ed at The New York Times. His conclusion is:

This is a bleak backdrop for the end of King Bhumibol’s reign. He was the model of a great king — modest, earnest and selfless, with his attention focused on the neediest. But he has left Thailand, as well as his heir, in the same situation he inherited all those years ago: in the hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals who rule however they want. And those King Bhumibol cared about the most — the Thai people — must suffer the consequences.

We are great fans of The King Never Smiles, but we are not convinced that the modest, earnest, selfless stuff isn’t buying palace propaganda (see the story above). We do agree that Thailand is currently in the “hands of corrupt and shortsighted generals,” we’d just point out that that was not the situation when the late king came to the throne. It was the Democrat Party’s founders, the old princes and other diehard royalists who used the death of the new king’s brother to overthrow a civilian regime. This was the first successful royalist coup.

Over at New Mandala, academic Lee Jones has an article called “The myth of King Bhumibol,” writing of his “weakness” of the king and identifies him as “a divisive and negative force for Thailand’s politics and democracy…”. We agree on the latter points but are not sure about the “weakness.” We think it better to view the monarchy and military as partners in anti-democratic rule.

Also at New Mandala, Nicholas Farrelly has an assessment of the king’s legacy. His view is of the king as a product of palace propaganda and image-making. He concludes: “But in late moments of reflection he [the king] may have regretted that his country became so ill prepared for mature leadership transitions and that his own charisma had been so regularly mobilised against the political wishes of the Thai people.” We doubt he regretted this. He considered Thais as children requiring discipline and direction and he provided it, for a while.

And, in another New Mandala piece, anthropologist Christine Gray writes about talking about monarchy. She writes about the past failures to challenge reporting and scholarship that was too accepting of palace propaganda. She makes an interesting point when she says “it seems tacky to criticise the dead” and then says it is necessary. She’s anticipated a ever stronger line on social media that argues that “now is not the right time for criticism.” It seems it is never the right time to be critical of the monarchy.

Along the same lines, Peter Symonds at WSWS has some useful observations. On not being truthful, he observes:

The king’s death was greeted with a wave of nauseating accolades from heads of state and political leaders around the world. US President Barack Obama issued a statement declaring that Bhumibol was “a tireless champion” for economic development and improved living standards. The UN General Assembly and Security Council stood in silent tribute. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Bhumibol’s “legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights.”

The international media followed suit, focussing on the outpouring of grief among the king’s supporters. The phrase “revered by the Thai people” appears in article after article, which either gloss over or completely ignore the Thai monarchy’s staggering wealth and its support for the country’s long succession of military coups and abuse of democratic rights.

The tabloids are also at work. The Mirror has been at it and so has the Daily Mail. The New York Post has a story titled “Thailand’s new king is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy.” It reproduces some of the lurid stories about the crown prince – the Post might say clown prince. Srirasmi is mentioned. There’s other critical commentary, including by a former Australian ambassador to Thailand.





Re-ordering the palace

26 09 2016

As we and others have posted over the past couple of years, as the health of the king has gone from bad to worse, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has been re-arranging palace affairs.

He has changed the command relationships associated with troops assigned to the palace. He got rid of an unwanted consort and her family. Although we cannot be sure, he seems to have been behind several of the efforts to clean away various royal hangers-on, through lese majeste cases.

A recent reshuffle of the royal household suggests that the slow, slow succession continues. The Bangkok Post reports that a “Royal Command has been issued to appoint Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau.”

Chirayu was previously a Grand Chamberlain and is the head of the Crown Property Bureau.

While the announcement follows the recent death of Lord Chamberlain, Keokhwan Vajarodaya, a couple of the new appointments are getting attention.

The Post states that the “royal command, issued on Sept 23, 2016 and countersigned by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, was published in the Royal Gazette on Sept 25.” Normally it would also be stated that the king signed the command. This may be an oversight at the Post.

It also states that “eight other persons have been appointed to positions in the Royal Household Bureau…”. In fact, as can be seen below (and here), several of them have held these positions for several years. Presumably the order derives in part from the prince’s re-ordering of the palace.

The appointments are:

1. ACM Satitpong Sukvimol to be Grand Chamberlain for policy administration and operations.

From Wikileaks: Separately, Niphon Promphan (Secretary General to the Prime Minister and a close associate of the Crown Prince) told us that he had met on March 2 with the Secretary to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, Air Chief Marshall Satitpong Sukvimol, and had relayed our concern that Bout would receive assistance from the Crown Prince’s office (reftel). Niphon told us that Satitpong denied that he or others in the Crown Prince’s entourage had any association with Bout. Satitpong said he would use his resources to investigate this false claim of ties to the Palace.

2. Lt Col Somchai Kanchanamanee to be Grand Chamberlain for royal residences.

We can’t find any information. Maybe readers can assist?

3. Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai to be Grand Chamberlain for security and special activities.

Jumpol or Chumpol is a former National Intelligence Director when Thaksin Shinawatra was premier.

From Wikileaks: the ongoing dispute over appointment of a new National Police Chief [link added by PPT] and the possible resignation of PM Abhisit’s Secretary General Niphon Promphan, who also works for the Crown Prince. At the Crown Prince’s direction, Niphon opposed Abhisit’s choice, GEN Patheep, in favor of the Crown Prince’s choice, GEN Chumpol Manmai. The inside story on why the Crown Prince wanted Chumpol so much, and risk criticism for intervening in a high level personnel choice against the evident wishes of the PM, is that Chumpol allegedly served as Thaksin’s bag man, personally delivering to the Crown Prince monies skimmed off the proceeds of the lotteries involved in the current court case. While such a story cannot be reported in the Thai media due to Lese Majeste concerns, the Crown Prince-Chumpol connection underscores the sense of lottery critics that Thaksin launched the lottery scheme to create a government slush fund which he could use to fund not only populist schemes like scholarships but also pet projects off the books for personal and political gain, without any accountability.

4. Khwankeo Vajarodaya to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years. His recently deceased brother, Keokhwan, was previously Grand Chamberlain.

5. Narongrid Snidvongs Na Ayuthaya to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years.

6. Jintana Chuensiri to be Grand Chamberlain for finance.

Has held this position for several years.

7. Songkram Supecharoen, M.D., to be Personal Physician to His Majesty the King.

Has held this position for several years.

8. Pol Gen Pongsak Rohitopakarn to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years.