Prince in Germany

12 02 2012

Readers will recall Prince Vajiralongkorn’s troubles in 2011 when what was claimed to be his personal plane – a Boeing 737 no less – gifted to him by the Thai state, was seized in Germany.

Our posts on that event began with this post on 13 July and continued almost daily (here, here, here, here, here and here). Then there were other posts (here and here) that came to an end around 10 August.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has just published a story and commentary based on a local German news story of the prince’s recent visit to Germany, apparently to shop and renew a pilot’s license. The full story is at Marshall’s blog, so PPT just reproduces some choice items.

The prince and his wife (Marshall asks which one?) at the Mövenpick Hotel in the town of Braunschweig. Apparently the prince was extending his pilot’s license at the German Federal Aviation Office (Luftfahrt Bundesamt).

The Mövenpick is not hugely expensive, with suites at about 200 Euros a night, although it is reported that the prince was “accompanied by an entourage of 60 people, servants and bodyguards — and a dog.” The report states that

Weeks before the arrival, a delegation from the Royal Palace visited the hotel incognito…. They made bookings for more than 30 rooms and suites but it was only a few days before arrival when he was actually informed about the identity of his VIP guests….

That probably means about 3500-4000 Euros a night.

It is added that:

… the first group of staff arrived from Berlin. Dozens of cases were transported in a truck to Brunswick and unloaded. One hotel room was completely cleared for the purpose of establishing their own kitchen, providing the many employees, servants and security officials with Thai specialties, but the royal couple had mostly chosen food from the hotel kitchen during their stay.

The royals and their entourage were seen shopping

in Hannover, in the Outlet Center of Wolfsburg — and in Braunschweig city center. At Art & Deco Shop in Welfenhof the Princess bought 15 high-quality porcelain figurines, and about ten bodyguards were closely watching inside and in front of the store….


Further updated: Got it!

10 08 2011

Just as he was sent out the door, defeated Democrat Party leader (re-elected) and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that a Boeing 737 the Thai government claims to have gifted to Prince Vajiralongkorn for his regular and personal jaunts to Europe has been released from a court-ordered impounding in Germany.

AP reports that the aircraft “has been released after payment of a guarantee in a business dispute. Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Thai government posted the bond pending resolution of a claim by German company Walter Bau AG related to construction of a tollway in Bangkok more than 20 years ago.”

A German court ruled that the plane could be released after “the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.” The release was confirmed by German authorities.

The Democrat Party must be secretly pleased that it managed this release and – in their view – maintained a distance between Thaksin Shinawatra and the prince.

Update 1:  A reader chastises us for neglecting to mention that Abhisit had earlier emphatically stated that there would be no government guarantee. Good point, but then this just adds to the extensive list of Abhisit’s untruths.

Update 2: Saksith Saiyasombut at Asian Correspondent has an excellent account of this event.

Updated: Government refuses prince’s cash

4 08 2011

PPT is a bit late on this post, but it is still worth commenting on some of outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s last royalist maneuvers.The government has refused the Prince Vajiralongkorn’s offer of money as a bond for “his” Boeing 737.

This decision, reported in The Nation, seems odd for a last-day government until the role of Thaksin Shinawatra is considered. PPT reckons that many in the Democrat Party believe that Thaksin is behind the offer to pay.

The government has said it will “instead quickly seek other avenues to resolve the dispute and maintain good relations with Berlin while preserving the dignity of the Thai monarchy.”

Abhisit stated: “So far, the Crown Prince has not yet given his personal assets to settle the case but he expressed his intention to do so and the government has informed him that we would do it our own way first…”. Abhisit made the comment after an “audience” with the prince.

Abhisit said that the Office of the Attorney-General would send a team to Berlin today for a week to find a solution…”. So what have they been doing to date? Rambling and making things up? Abhisit said that there would be no deposit guarantee to retrieve the jet.

Update: Readers will find this German account of the prince and his plane useful.

With 3 updates: Prince pays

1 08 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that Prince Vajiralongkorn “will use his personal funds to secure the release of his 737 aircraft that was impounded at Munich airport on July 12…”. That means the prince is claiming to be putting up 20 million euros (or about 846 million baht) as a “security bond for the return of the Boeing 737” which the Thai government claims is the prince’s personal property.

The prince stated that he “hoped the payment of the bond would help end the legal dispute between the Thai government and German construction company Walter Bau AG over revenue sharing from toll fees on the Don Muang Tollway.” He added, in a letter reproduced by the Post (but too small for PPT to read – see update below), that he “did not wish to be involved in the dispute, and wanted it to be settled quickly and smoothly…”.

The statement released by his Secretariat said the prince “wanted to show benevolence to his country, and did not want the dispute to affect the cordial relations between Thailand and Germany.”

PPT imagines that this decision will raise even more questions. The rumor mill will be running hot. One question will be about the source of the “personal” funds. Many will believe that the government has really paid. Others will soon be claiming that Thaksin Shinawatra has paid.

PPT wonders about the reason for deciding to pay now, after earlier saying that no bond should be paid. Is it just that the prince has bags of money laying about and he doesn’t like his other 737 as much as the seized one?

More seriously, we wonder if the prince, his advisers and the government have finally realized the folly of the claims they have been making? Have they also recognized the disastrously negative PR impact the episode has had for the monarchy, raising questions about state and personal property that they’d rather not have asked? Will this belated effort take such questions off the table?

Update 1: PPT just found a better copy of the prince’s letter, here. See Bangkok Pundit’s guarded comments here. PPT will have more once we have had a chance to read the letter in detail.

Update 2: In fact, there is not much more to add after reading the letter. The prince makes it clear that his move was made so that the the damage to him can be limited. As The Nation puts it, the prince “did not wish his name to be involved any longer in the dispute as it tarnished his honour.” He was concerned by the negative domestic and international media coverage.

Update 3: PPT highly recommends Bangkok Pundit’s post that tries to make sense of brief reports concerning a meeting between Abhisit and the prince, the bond and a claim that the government is also about to pay a bond. In fact, PPT can see no reason why the state would pay a bond if the prince has already paid one. Reader’s comments by email are welcomed.

Plane hopeless

30 07 2011

The saga of the seized Boeing 737 goes on. What began years ago as an internationally-arbitrated case by the administrator of an insolvent German country to seek compensation for contract failures has now become an international farce for Thailand.

The seizure of Thailand state property – the 737, which the Thai government claims is now the personal property of Prince Vajiralongkorn – is such a shamozzle that responses from Thailand authorities are becoming ever more bizarre.

The Nation says that the “Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) yesterday challenged the German construction firm Walter Bau to bring the investment conflict case over Don Muang Tollway to a Thai court to enforce the compensation awarded by an international arbitration tribunal.”

What? The Thai government’s senior legal office is challenging the company to deal with Thai courts? This amounts to an admission that the Thai case is so weak that the only way the government could win would be in biased local courts that move glacially slowly and are subject to corruption? The Thai government is saying that international courts are simply to, well, legal in their interpretations.

The Attorney-General, Chulasingh Vasantasingh, has the hide to state: “If they really want compensation, they should bring the case to a Thai court. There is so much Thai government property here…”. We say he has the hide to do this because he should be joking.

His question is: “The arbitration tribunal awarded the company two years ago, why haven’t they brought the case to a Thai court for enforcement? Why ask the German court to enforce the case and seize the royal plane?” The answer is simple. There is no international confidence in Thai courts.

Then the Attorney General became curiously vague, arguing that the “OAG will file a lawsuit against Germany for unfair seizure of the plane, Julasing said, but declined to disclose whom he would sue, on what grounds, when or where.”

He then gets stupidly illegal: “If they are still bothering us, we have to do something to pay them back…”. Remember that this is one of Thailand’s top legal officials making this threat!

The Nation points out: “On July 1, 2009, an international arbitration panel in Geneva made a final judgement in favour of Walter Bau. The Thai government was ordered to pay Euro36 million in damages to the company for breaching obligations set out in the tollway contract. The decision was final.” None the less, Thailand appealed.

On the plane seizure, this seemingly incoherent Attorney General stated that “he would bring a key witness to the trial to prove that the international tribunal mishandled the case. Thailand had a witness who was very familiar with the investment contract from the beginning, but the international arbitration tribunal refused to take this witness into account and made an unfair judgement against the Thai government…”. Yes, the mystery witness will save the plane!

Chulasingh states: “If the German court in Berlin learned about this key witness, I believe the court would agree with Thailand that the tribunal made the wrong decision on the case…. Therefore enforcement to compensate the company would be impossible.”

And, just to help make the case Thai-style murky, the “OAG also filed a case at the Thai Administrative Court asking it to terminate the international arbitration tribunal’s decision. The Primary Administration Court forwarded the case to the Supreme Administrative Court for consideration…”.

What does all this mean? It shows that the Thai government has no case to make that would work in an international court, so they need their own rules. Of course, the Thai government originally agreed to international arbitration. Foreign investors must be getting very worried by the essentially illegal acts of the Thai government.

The Economist on the plane saga

28 07 2011

The Economist has a useful story that summarizes the Boeing 737 saga in Germany as the Thai government frets over the plane it claims was once public property but now is the personal property of Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The impounded 737 (BBC photo)

A couple of quotes:

The plane is the plaything of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 59, a military-trained pilot who is fond of extended European jaunts. Its seizure, by a German liquidator trying to recoup €36m ($52m) from the Thai government, is rather inconvenient for his highness. Luckily, the prince had another Boeing 737 on standby in Thailand, which is now parked near the impounded jet on the tarmac in Munich.  

The aircraft, built in 1990 and fitted with a roomy 36 seats, originally belonged to the Thai air force. However, Thailand argues that the plane was transferred in 2007 to Vajiralongkorn and is registered in his name, and that its seizure was therefore illegal, since it is private property. The outgoing foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, who dashed to Munich to contest the ruling, has warned that Thai feelings could be hurt, because the royal family is involved.

PPT suspects that there’s rather more mirth than Kasit allows for. Most of PPT’s contacts have had a good laugh over the stupidity displayed by the government and the inconvenience caused to those who prey on state funds for their fun.

Thai newspapers hailed the ruling as a victory and reported, wrongly, that the plane had been released. In fact the government has refused to cough up the bail money, and instead seems to be pinning its hopes on another court hearing next month.

Thai taxpayers might well wonder how exactly a jumbo jet purchased by the Thai air force ended up as Vajiralongkorn’s personal property. That question seems likely to go unanswered.

It isn’t a jumbo, but the question remains valid.

Successfully advising the prince

28 07 2011

A German firm, DLA Piper, has a press release claiming to have ” has successfully advised Maha Vajiralongkorn, the Crown Prince of Thailand, in a dispute on the seizure of his aircraft before the Regional Court of Landshut (Germany). By decision of 20 July 2011, the court revoked the seizure of the Crown Prince’s Boeing 737-400, which had been carried out on the Airport of Munich on 11 July 2011, against a security of € 20 mio until the final decision.”

There seems to be an interesting definition of “successfully advised.” PPT understood from Thai media reports that the prince had advised against paying any amount as “security.” Does this mean the Thai government has indeed forked out the loot? Or is it just law firm hubris?