Still getting the monarchy wrong

17 02 2017

Ralph Jennings, a Contributor at Forbes says he “cover[s] under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia” but seems to specialize on China and Taiwan. Thus, venturing into things royal and Thailand is thus a stretch and a test of knowledge.

He’s right to observe that the monarchy in Thailand has “massive influence.”

But the picture he paints of the last king is pure palace propaganda when he states:

He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.

Let’s correct a bit. He also initiated coups, as in 1957, and he supported coups, as in 2006, when it suited him. And that’s just two examples. He also supported right-wing extremists and acted as a prompt to massive blood-letting, as in 1976. The palace hand was always meddling in politics. The “infrastructure projects” are presumably the royal projects, many of them grand failures and, since the General Prem Tinsulanonda era, at great taxpayer expense.

And, “wobbly government” hardly seems to fit much of the reign, when the monarchy collaborated with ruthless military regimes, just as it does now.

The author is correct to observe that King Vajiralongkorn “is not expected to advocate changes in Thailand that reflect mass concerns or even go around meeting people.”

Recall that the dead king also essentially gave up “going to the people” for most of the last two decades of his reign. For one thing, he was too ill. For another, the “going to meet the people” was a political strategy for winning hearts and minds in his campaign to remake the monarchy. By the 1990s, this was largely achieved.

That King Vajiralongkorn is claimed to have “signaled little interest so far in shifting Thailand from quasi-military rule toward more democracy after a junta took power in 2014” seems an odd observation. And, in this quite natural political position for a monarchy such as Thailand’s, the new king follows the dead one.

That the new king wants more power for the throne is clear to all. That’s why the military’s “constitution” has been changed. But to say that the new version – we still don’t know the exact nature of the changes – allows the king “more freedom to travel overseas, where he has spent much of his life, and can appoint a regent to rule when he’s not around” is a misunderstanding of what The Dictator has let be known. The point of the changes was to allow him to not have a regent during his jaunts.

And, Mr Jennings must be the only one who thinks “[e]lections are due this year.”

He is right, however, to add that “[o]bservers believe that with King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will continue to retain its strict lese-majeste laws, which ban any criticism of the monarchy.” That is a requirement of continued domination by a royalist elite.





The rich get a bit richer still

8 06 2016

Forbes has released its annual rankings of the rich in 2016. There are a number of stories and a listing of the 50 wealthiest in Thailand (sans the royal family and its Crown Property Bureau).

The Forbes list is compiled, they say, “using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges and analysts, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and regulatory agencies.” Forbes also states that “[u]nlike our billionaire rankings, this list encompasses family fortunes, including those shared among extended families of multiple generations. Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of May 20. Private companies were valued based on comparisons with similar companies that are publicly traded.”

PPT has put together the list of the top 10 and compared this with the list for 2015:

Wealth 2016If our calculator and fingers have worked well, the richest 10 are worth $72.7 billion ($67.85 billion a year ago) and the wealthiest 50 are collectively worth $106.445 billion.





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.





Prince’s purge widens

2 12 2014

The family-based purge of persons associated with Prince Vajiralongkorn’s estranged wife continues to widen.

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Bangkok Military Court has Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for Nopporn Suppipat, one of Thailand’s 50 wealthiest people this year, for allegedly hiring two criminal suspects connected to former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan to ‘negotiate’ down his debts.”

Forbes lists Nopporn as an early 40s new rich lister, worth US$800 million. His rise has been startling after several unsuccessful enterprises in the past. He is boss of Wind Energy Holding Co., and is “wanted on charges of defaming the monarchy by using royal influence to hire others to physically assault and threaten others…”.

He “allegedly hired Natthanan Thanawech and Chalach Phothirach to kidnap a businessman he owned money to.” The businessman is reportedly Bandit Chotwitthayakul, said to be owed 120 million baht.

Interesting to speculate why someone said to be worth 2.4 billion would engage in wheeling and dealing over a debt of 120 million baht.

At least eight persons have now been accused of lese majeste in this and other cases related to Prince Vajiralongkorn’s purge.





Updated: Political crisis and the rich

7 06 2014

The 14 June 2014 issue of Forbes lists the 50 richest Thais/Thai families. With all of the political turmoil in Thailand in recent years, most of it claimed or asserted to be in support of the wealthy elite – recall the remarkable Vice clip of rich dipsticks in Ferraris – it might be thought that the wealthiest might have seen a decline in their fortunes. After all, the economy has struggled, several of the richest families kicked in loot to back the anti-democrats, and things just haven’t seemed conducive for the rich to add hugely to their fortunes. So what has happened?

Most years PPT has posted a list of the wealthiest, always noting that the list leaves off the wealthiest family. That’s the “Mahidols,” also known as the royal family. In 2011, the Forbes list was:

  1. Dhanin Chearavanont,  $7.4 billionmoneybags
  2. Yoovidhya family, $5b
  3. Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi,  $4.8b
  4. Chirathivat family, $4.3b
  5. Ratanarak family,  $2.5b
  6. Aloke Lohia,  $2.1b
  7. Bhirombhakdi family,  $2b
  8. Vichai Maleenont,  $1.5b
  9. Isara Vongkusolkit & family,  $1.4b
  10. Praneetsilpa Vacharaphol & family,  $1.05b

The combined wealth of this top 10 was $32.05 billion, still quite a lot less than the royal family’s Crown Property Bureau.

What does the list look like in 2014? With a little adding together of the same families listed twice and lengthening to show changes, it is:

  1. Sirivadhanabhakdi family, $12.9bmoney
  2. Chirathivat family, $12.1b
  3. Dhanin Chearavanont, $11.5b
  4. Yoovidhya family, $9.9b
  5. Ratanarak family, $5.1b
  6. Chaiyawan family, $3.9b
  7. Bhirombhakdi family, $2.8b
  8. Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, $2.3b
  9. Vichai Maleenont, $1.7b
  10. Shinawatra family, $1.7b
  11. Chatri Sophonpanich, $1.6b
  12. Thirakomen family, $1.5b
  13. Thongma Vijitpongpun, $1.4b
  14. Prayudh Mahagitsiri & family, $1.4b
  15. Keeree Kanjanapas, $1.4b
  16. Bencharongkul & family, $1.3b
  17. Aloke Lohia, $1.2b
  18. Osathanugrah family, $1.2b
  19. Wichai Thongtang, $1.1b
  20. Isara Vongkusolkit & family, $1.1b

Praneetsilpa Vacharaphol & family dropped to No. 25 on the list but increased its wealth to $1.1b. Of the top 10 families in 2011, all but the Vongkusolkit family had increased their wealth, most of them very substantially.

By 2014, the combined wealth of the top 10 on the list had rocketed to $63.9 billion. We have no way of knowing what the current assets of the royals and CPB are at present – they don’t have to provide such trivial details to the public. All we can note is that the wealth of the top 10 is now about double the 2011 assets of the CPB.

The wealth of the Shinawatra family increased 4.25 times between 2011 and 2014, outstripping the growth of the top 10. However, others did well to. The Chirathivat family wealth increase by about 3 times and the Chaiyawan family at about the same rate as the Shinawatra family.

Update: Our writer yesterday has been admonished and, in the spirit of “good order,” was made to stand outside her condo displaying a dangerous 3-fingered salute for neglecting to link this post about the richest with those who were thought to have funded the anti-democrat movement. He is truly sorry.





Obscuring by political concoction

13 12 2012

As any long-time reader of PPT knows, the wealthiest family in Thailand is the royal family. If the wealth of the top ten in the annual Forbes list is combined, then the total comes out roughly the same as the assets of the Crown Property Bureau alone, leaving aside the other assets of the royal family.Money & Banking

Another measure of wealth that comes out each year for Thailand is the Money & Banking/การเงินการธนาคาร list of top shareholders at the Stock Exchange of Thailand. We do not recall it including the royal family’s personal shareholdings. PPT hasn’t seen the latest issue and ranking (the cover is reproduced, right), but we note a story based on it from The Nation.

PPT’s attention was drawn to the article by the headline: “Richest stockholders linked to govt, PM”. As far as we can tell, this is a complete fabrication by the newspaper. This concoction – made for blatantly political purposes – is apparently not even based on the data the editors of this fish wrap  reproduce in their own story. The first lines of the story modify the false headline only slightly: “Politicians and their families, especially some people close to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government … rank among the richest stockholders in the country.”

Well, yes, they do rank “among the 5,737 millionaires as of September…” – yes, that is more than 5,700.

The Nation breathlessly states: there “are Yingluck’s two nieces, who are daughters of her big brother and former prime minister Thaksin [Shinawatra].” It shows that “Paethongtarn Shinawatra, was ranked 47th with her 29-per-cent holding in SC Asset worth Bt3.46 billion, while Pinthongta Shinawatra was 53rd with a 28-per-cent stake in the same real-estate company worth Bt3.35 billion.”

What the data show is that the top 46 stockholders are not related to the government or prime minister, at least not according to The Nation’s data.

The paper does find others who are not “Richest stockholders linked to govt, PM”, but claims they are: “Pojaman na Pombejra, Thaksin’s ex-wife, fell to 502nd” place on the list, while “Pongthep Thepkanjana, deputy prime minister and education minister, has his wife and daughter on the list. Yapa was ranked 244th with a 2.1-per-cent interest in Kiatnakin Bank worth Bt795.50 million, while his wife Panida was 264th with a 1.9-per-cent stake worth Bt728.08 million in the bank.” Then they dug up “Artharn at 1,811st with a 2.6-per-cent stake worth Bt58.28 million in Unimit Engineering, and Duang at 2,213rd with 1.8 per cent or Bt38.60 million in the same company,” who are sons of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

It is quite clear that The Nation has simply made up its headline and concocted a story. It has long been known that the Shinawatra clan is wealthy, and they have appeared on the Money & Banking list for many years, often much higher ranked than they are now. Pongthep’s family has also been on the list for some time.

Recent reports suggest that the king’s personal holdings “include shares valued at $63 million in companies including Minor International Pcl (MINT), Thailand’s biggest hotel operator … according to data compiled by Bloomberg.” If accurate, that alone would rank the king above Pongthep’s wife and daughter combined.

If real analysis was done of the biggest shareholders, we have little doubt that the real headline would be “Richest stockholders linked to Democrat Party.”

The Nation is too often a disgraceful pile of pulp and remarkably stupid in its concoctions.





Updated: Thaksin on Thaksin

30 10 2012

Readers may have already seen the long and apparently verbatim interview by Forbes magazine with Thaksin Shinawatra. It extends over several pages and many topics, so PPT highlights only a few points that seem of some interest. As usual, there are a couple of Thaksin bombs in what he says. We think his opponents will make much of his comments on his links to Yingluck Shinawatra and her government, not because the information is new, but because he states it. In addition, the responsibility he takes for the rice pledging scheme will be taken up by opponents:

On travel and business:

Most of the countries asked me please don’t come yet [during the Abhisit Vejjajiva time in government]. Because they knew the problem in Thailand very well and they just didn’t want the conflict with the government at the time…. So at that time I traveled a lot to Russia where I have a good relationship, and I also went to Africa, and I met with my old friends there…. I asked them, what should I do, what kind of business should I do here? And they said why don’t you do mining…. I don’t have any experience with mining, and I learned from there…. I’ve got concessions for exploration in Uganda and Tanzania, and titanium concession in Zimbabwe. We found gold and titanium already…. We also found a very good reserve of platinum in Uganda….

I’ve been asked to get telecom licenses in many countries but since I know too much I know now not to invest in this sector, which there are too many competitors… In many countries the average revenue per subscriber is too low, not enough.

On investment in his current ventures: “Not much money… so far I have invested about $30 million.”

On having a Thai passport:

I received my passport back after the current government came back. You know that is a prejudice. Because they revoked only my passport. The whole country, so many people have left the country even with criminal cases, and they took only my passport. Only me. It was political revenge. It’s violation of the law of selective enforcement. They committed a crime.

There is quite a long section in the interview on the controversial rice pledging scheme, where Thaksin claims responsibility: “This policy, I am the one who thinks. Like our slogan during the campaign, Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts.” On the policy he states:

Actually it’s not a problem, it’s a jealousy from political side. They are afraid that we will have more power from the grass roots level. Because the farmers were very happy; they can pay off their loan. They are happy. Another group that has problem with us is the exporters. In the old days their life was so easy. The government would buy from the farmers and sell cheaply to exporters, and they would sell to international market cheaply as well. We are the number 1 rice exporter in the world. Why would we have to sell our rice cheaply at the expenses of the farmers? … So in the end of the day, it’s about the economy and about the well being of the poor.

On corruption in the scheme:

It’s not much…. We have to admit there will be some leakage. In the low level the government officials might take advantage of the farmers, but so far the farmers are so happy. But at the same time we are not forcing the world market to be too expensive. But at least we need a fair price for the farmers.

On who controls government:

I am active in brain storming with our people, our strategists, in Thailand. In the party. And Yingluck also is the one who contributes in term of strategy together with us.

We speak as family. Normally we speak often because we are family. And with the family sometimes we consult each other, in so many things, including management affairs. I treat myself as an inside [advisor] to her, and she can consult me anytime, but I do not force her to consult her.

[We talk] Sometimes two or three times a week, sometimes when there’s a hot issue we talk more. Because I know the people, I know the law, I know international protocols. She is new. She doesn’t need to call me, but when she does, I can give her the answers immediately. Because I am sitting here doing nothing.

On amending the constitution:

One thing that we really wanted to do and we promised to do for the people and we’ve been blocked, not allowed to do, is the constitutional amendment. This constitution is a product from the coup…. You understand immediately that it’s not really for democracy. And if Thailand is still like this, we cannot move fast. Because it’s like you have a house full of land mine.

We are trying to walk through the land mine, and if we can walk through the land mine, we should amend it. We wanted to do it before the election because we promised. If we go to work, we’ll step in the land mine, boom!

On opposition: “They don’t respect the people that much. This constitution does not respect the people power.” He adds that he is:

… really unlucky that Thailand only have two English newspapers, and both of them against me. So the international audience might read what happening in Thailand through these newspapers. The phrases they used are prejudiced and biased from the beginning. Not just only in the details, the headlines already are prejudiced. So don’t believe them. If you want to know the true me, true Thaksin, and you read these newspapers, you’d never know the true Thaksin.

On the monarchy: “… the palace is above politics. … [T]he palace is always above politics. When I become a politician, I should not involved with the palace. I should pay respect, and be involved only with politicians.”

On the military: “So it’s not a source of problem…. But when the time comes [for intervention], they will be instructed to do so.”

Thaksin is asked about the loss of some of his assets through Thailand’s courts, he claims he was “bullied politically,” adding:

… they took my assets, they took part of my money, which is unfair, and I am still being treated unfairly and I still fight for it…. This is really unfair. It’s unfair. The law can’t give principle of law to the students, because what they practiced there is outrageous. Even there is no law, they write their own law….

If I was to go back, I would still help the poor to be stronger, because I believe that when people get out of poverty, the whole country prospers. And when the whole country prospers, the elite that sit in the top will be benefit even more! But they don’t understand. They want to maintain the status quo.

He adds that he will fight the injustice he feels he has suffered, “[e]ven on my dying bed.”

Update: Forbes has an article based on what it now says is an “edited transcript” of the Thaksin interview cited above.