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Phoo Phaakpboom, The Present King and the Coup d’Etat (unpublished)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





Updated: Land, wealth and influence

28 03 2015

One of the recent “debates” in the puppet National Legislative Assembly had to do with land tax. This issue has been around for decades, and neither elected governments nor authoritarian and military regimes have wanted to touch it. The puppets seemed to drop it pretty quickly, not least because self-appointed prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha intervened.

The reason land tax is a hot potato is that Thailand’s elite invests heavily in land, often speculatively, with the idea that it avoids scrutiny and tax, and land thus provides essentially tax-free wealth parking.

In a report at the Bangkok Post and widely reported in other media, the NGO Local Action Links (LocalAct) claims that 530 (then-)elected politicians owned land worth a total of 18.1 billion baht and buildings worth another 6.4 billion baht. The NGO said these holdings indicated “why they are opposed to a proposed land and buildings tax…”.

The error here is that none of these politicians is in the puppet Assembly. All of these politicians were ditched by the 2014 coup. The bigger point is correct: politicians, like others in the broad elite, like to buy properties for the reasons mentioned above.

The average for each of these politicians is about 47 million baht or $1.44 million, the price of a luxury condominium or a modern and well-appointed house and land in Bangkok. Averages don’t mean a great deal in terms of distribution of wealth, for as one of the tables reproduced in the Post shows, land wealth varies greatly. (We always worry about out computational skills when dealing with billions, so hopefully we have got it right.)Land 1 What is interesting in the report is the focus on elected politicians, many of whom have businesses when they enter politics, and that data are what is revealed in their self-declarations of ownership.

Why politicians? Why not the wealth of the military leaders and their puppet politicians?

Sure, the figures aren’t directly comparable, but the land and buildings declared by elected politicians is, on average, less than the average declared total assets of the military and police members of the puppet National Legislative Assembly. In an earlier post we provided these details: If a general in the armed forces, your assets average about 78 million baht, If you managed to become an admiral in the navy, you sail away with average assets of about 109 million baht. The top money secretes to the top police. The average for the police is a whopping 258 million baht.

And then what isn’t emphasized is that these politicians are tiddlers when compared with the whales of land ownership. The study showed that 14 then-MPs held land covering more than 1,000 rai while 25 had more than 500 rai and 126 held more than 100 rai. When the second table is examined, the really big landowners are Thailand’s wealthiest.

Land 2The report in the Post states: “Politicians, however, are not the largest group of landlords, according to Lands Department data.” PPT has posted on this previously.

Some of that data is presented above showing the control by Sino-Thai tycoons, with the top 10 landholders owning almost 1 million rai. That the Sirivadhanabhakdi family owns land the equivalent size to about 1,000 square kilometres, which is about the area of Hong Kong and larger than Singapore (by about 25%) might be a surprise, when it has long been thought the Crown Property Bureau was the largest landowner in the country. It would be interesting to compare values, for the CPB’s land – much of it in high-priced areas of central Bangkok – was valued at about $30 billion about a decade ago.

The Chearavanont family, with about 200,000 rai, is the family that controls the CP group, the agro-industry giant, while United Palm Oil Industry, with some 44,400 rai, is a company that has its main owners in Singapore, and tightly inter-connected and family-owned structures that include, for example, Lam Soon (Thailand).

The Forbes list of Thailand’s richest, excluding the royal family are: (1) Sirivadhanabhakdi family, $12.9 billion, (2) Chirathivat family, $12.1b, and (3) Dhanin Chearavanont, $11.5b.

The royal connections of the Sirivadhanabhakdi and Chearavanont empires are well-known. Such connections are unavoidable, but not so the links to The Dictator, the broad anti-democrat alliance and the Democrat Party.

Update: Interestingly, in a revised report, the Bangkok Post – which maintains the original story too – refers to ex-politicians, removes the table showing the Crown Property Bureau and does not mention the CPB when writing of big land owners.








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