Wealth and impunity

30 09 2019

Fugitives from justice were mentioned by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in his inept talk at the Asia Society. He only means Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. But there’s also the long story of billionaire fugitive Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya that The Dictator ignores.

In a story for The Walrus, Martha Mendoza recalls how the rich get away with murder.

It was back in early September 2012, when playboy Vorayuth “roared his Ferrari down Sukhumvit Road” and “slammed into motorcycle cop Sergeant Major Wichean Glanprasert, dragging the officer, along with his tangled bike, down the block.” Vorayuth fled the scene and hid in a family compound. His family have accumulated a wealth of more than$13 billion through their Red Bull enterprises and by hoovering up all kinds of other investments that almost magically fall into the copious laps of the tycoons in Bangkok.

Party time for Boss (clipped from The Daily Mail)

Police followed a trail to the family mansion but were initially denied entry. The family tried to have a chauffeur take the blame, “but Boss later admitted to being the one behind the wheel.” He turned himself in, was granted bail and fled the scene again. So far none of the court cases have gone anywhere as Vorayuth is “unavailable.” The police, government and the family’s friends seem unconcerned. No one is held responsible for the death. Boss lives the high life with impunity.

Having set the scene, we just cut-and-paste from Mendoza’s excellent story:

… Within weeks of the incident, Boss was back to enjoying his family’s jet-set lifestyle: he flew around the world on private Red Bull jets, cheered the company’s Formula One racing team from Red Bull’s VIP seats, and kept a shiny black Porsche Carrera in London with custom licence plates—B055 RBR, or Boss Red Bull racing.

… Boss is reported to have at least two passports and a complex network of offshore accounts, and with these tools, he’s able to travel the world with impunity. More than 120 photos posted on Facebook and Instagram, as well as some racing blogs, show Boss visiting at least nine countries…. He’s cruised Monaco’s harbour, snowboarded Japan’s fresh powder, and celebrated his birthday at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. This means that while authorities say they’ve had no idea where Boss was, his friends, family, and all of their followers seem to have had no doubt about his whereabouts and the good times he’s been having.

… During the time Boss hid in plain sight, an Associated Press (AP) investigation into his whereabouts simultaneously exposed how the Yoovidhya family has spent decades hiding its assets in offshore accounts.

… As the business expanded, Chaleo Yoovidhya began hiding his assets. In 1994, he set up a shell company called Golden Falcon Trading Company in the British Virgin Islands. The Panama Papers, an international collaboration among journalists that began in 2016 to sift through leaked documents that identify the offshore financial dealings of the world’s wealthy, disclosed that ten of Chaleo’s children were shareholders.

The Yoovidhya family’s efforts to hide assets show how billions in private wealth can be moved around the world with minimal regulation to avoid tax and other legal constraints. The extent of the family’s confidential deals was inadvertently exposed by Boss and his social-media-loving cousins during his time on the run: they had posted photos of Boss walking into a London townhouse, and they even included the address….

An investigation into the five-storey brick home showed that it is the address Boss’s father, Chalerm Yoovidhya, gave when incorporating Siam Winery Trading Plus in the UK in 2002, and that his mother, Daranee Yoovidhya, used when opening a food-related business there in 2006. But, according to AP, the listed owner of the home, and at least four other multi-million-dollar properties in London, isn’t the Yoovidhyas—it’s Karnforth Investments, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Panama Papers.

… [T]he main shareholder of the energy drink’s UK business is another British Virgin Islands company called Jerrard Company.

Here’s where it gets complicated: an investigation by AP revealed that Karnforth has just one shareholder, which is Jerrard. And Jerrard is held by a third offshore company, which controls a fourth, called JK Fly. Who owns JK Fly? Karnforth. The Yoovidhyas’ offshore companies overlap with nominee directors—people legally paid small amounts to sign forms and attend directors’ meetings in lieu of the true owners, whose names remain confidential.

According to AP, documents from the Panama Papers show that, for years, money has flowed back and forth between these various entities. For example, in 2005, Jerrard loaned Karnforth $6.5 million US to buy two London properties. In 2012, Jerrard cancelled the mortgages, giving Karnforth ownership of the properties. Since 2010, JK Fly has owed Karnforth, its sole shareholder, about $14 million US in an interest-free loan to purchase aircraft.

… In 2010, and again in 2013, the papers [Panama Papers] show that auditors at Mossack Fonseca’s head offices in Panama—the company that arranged the Yoovidhya’s network of companies—raised concerns about Karnforth and Jerrard. Documents verifying the true owners were missing.

[W]hile other governments were swift and aggressive in responding to Panama Papers revelations, that has not been the case in Thailand. More than 1,400 Thai individuals were identified in the documents, but according to AP, the government calls the reports rumours….

Law professor Viraphong Boonyobhas, director of Chulalongkorn University’s business-crime and money-laundering data bank in Bangkok, would not speak directly about the Yoovidhyas or any other Thai person or company, saying he feared for his legal and physical safety….

Corruption is defined by the abuse of power for private gain. It erodes public trust and undermines institutions. In Thailand, many residents assume the wealthy elite can break the law with impunity. Over generations, people have grown used to giving mandatory “gifts” of cash to judges, police, and government officials in exchange for building and business permits, as well as favourable court decisions. They’ve watched as rich and influential families win lucrative contracts and avoid prosecutors.

Here’s who gets arrested in Thailand: citizens gathering for nonviolent protests to denounce the coup-installed junta government, bloggers posting social-media messages critical of the king, journalists carrying bulletproof vests and helmets for protection at riots that at times turn deadly.

The policeman’s family grieved but figured at least there would be justice.

They didn’t get it and they know the justice system “runs on a ‘double standard’…”. In Thailand, “the justice system has two tracks: one for the elite and one for everybody else.”





With two updates: Open-mouthed disbelief VI

12 09 2019

It just gets worse and worse. Thammanat Prompao’s lies and deceit multiply by the day. Now, some readers might think he’s just a dope rather than a convicted dope trafficker.  But this would be to misunderstand how the rich and powerful “think” in Thailand. The right to impunity is simply taken for granted that they seldom ever have to “think.” When they do, this is often because they have ticked someone even more powerful, and Thammanat still seems to have the highest backing.

By the way, police and military being involved in crime is common, as a case against a senior cop, reported today, confirms.

But back to things getting worse with the loose-with-the-truth Thammanat. The Bangkok Post reports on a parliamentary speech by Thammanat, where he’s gone the route of doubling down on his lies.

He now “insists he was not jailed in Australia in a drug smuggling case, nor did he confess to any drugs charge as claimed in an Australian newspaper report.”

Invited to speak by The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thammanat went full on bonkers. The Post has an excellent graphic, which we reproduce here, but treating his “version” as in any way believable stretches credibility.

A Bangkok Post graphic

The report states that “Thamanat said he had spoken to the media several times about the 1993 drug case in Australia, and that he was treated as a witness in connection with a suspect who was later acquitted.” He unbelievably adds: “The Australian court suggested that as a witness he stay in Australia until the case was concluded, which took four years…”.

And he then played the injured party, saying that this had “happened more than two decades ago” and it had been “dogging him…”. He added that he “would take legal action against whoever was trying to defame him.” Really? Well, perhaps, anything is possible in Thailand’s (in)justice system.

Being “injured” is more often associated with Thammanat’s victims, in lottery politics and murder investigations.

We can’t help wondering if this case is somehow linked to a set of lese majeste accusations (clicking downloads a PDF) in late 1993 involving the then crown prince. Recall that in early 1993 the Vajiralongkorn was again publicly denying that he was connected with illegal activities (Far Eastern Economic Review, 14 January 1993), but that might be just a coincidence.

And, as an aside, the site associated with the Gen Prawit Wongsuwan watch scandal that was laundered, CSI LA, has revealed that Thammanat’s public CV includes a PhD from a sham university. Presumably Thammanat has a mai lorder, sham PhD.

Update 1: While the military-backed regime “seems pretty cool with convicted heroin smuggler in cabinet,” the Australian newspapers involved have responded to Thammanat’s bogus claims by publichsing extracts from his court cases in Australia and by creating a short video that lays out the “discrepancies” between what the minister claims and what the court records show.

Responding to “government enforcer” Thammanat’s incredible claim that “he spent eight months in lock-up but the rest of the four years in ‘state-sponsored accommodation’ as a witness,” the newspapers make it clear that he was jailed for heroin trafficking and being involved in the racket in Thailand and in Australia. As noted above, Thammanat again engaged in fictitious spinning when he “again denied pleading guilty then said he entered a plea-bargaining arrangement.”

The documents show this is utter nonsense and that Thammanat pleaded guilty and gained a sentence reduction by providing useful information to the police and prosecutors:

Court documents show the young soldier Manat and his co-accused half-brother Sorasat Tiemtad were arrested in Bondi on April 15, 1993, and charged with conspiring to import $4.1 million of heroin. When told by a judge in November 1993 he faced up to nine years’ jail, Manat began co-operating in return for a lesser sentence. He pleaded guilty on November 15, 1993, and was sentenced in the NSW District Court on March 31, 1994, to six years’ jail with four years’ minimum and a two-year non-parole period.

Interestingly, the newspapers add some information about the case in its most recent incarnation:

The Herald and The Age can also reveal that Thai opposition politicians sought information from the Australian embassy in Bangkok about Thammanat’s past legal problems, but did not receive assistance.

The Thai government has confirmed it sought information from Australia about Thammanat before his appointment in July, but did not say whether it was informed of his crimes.

The Australian Federal Police did not deny that it shared information with Thai counterparts about Thammanat’s conviction under the usual police information sharing arrangements between the nations.

Thammanat and his half-brother were “released from Parklea prison on April 14, 1997, and deported.”

The report notes that Thammanat would not be allowed to enter Australia: “The Home Affairs website warns: ‘You will not pass the character test if you hold a substantial criminal record. If you don’t pass the character test, you will not get a visa to enter Australia’.”

Update 2: Above we mentioned Thammanat’s fake PhD degree. Demonstrating that he knows nothing about his degree or where he purchased it, Thammanat proudly displayed his “degree certificate.” In showing off an “accreditation” certificate from a dodgy accreditation business that “accredited” a dodgy “degree” from a dodgy “university.

Thammanat stated: “I received the degree from US-based California University Los Angeles, not from the Philippines [as some claimed]…”. But he gets the name wrong. Apparently, his House website had to be quickly changed. It “showed he holds a  doctor of philosophy degree in public administration from Calamus International University’.” This was changed ” to show he obtained the same degree from California University FCE…”.

But this is not a university but a semi-commercial operation that “accredits” degrees for use in legal transactions such as immigration. Thammanat displayed a certificate issued by CUFCE. Thammanat paid a fee for or someone paid for him. No one studies for a doctorate at CUFCE.

That Thammanat doesn’t even know the details of his “degree” shows that his lies simply overwhelm him.





With 3 updates: Regime fails

5 02 2019

In the last few days there have been several events and announcements that point to failures by the military junta. They are among many regime failures since 2014.

First, the regime has failed on corruption. Of course, it came to power, like several past military regimes, to end corruption. As in the past, as now, this has not meant corruption by the military and regime itself.

Second, now shackling and dressing him in prison garb, the regime has failed to end the detention of Hakeem al-Araibi. A recognized refugee, for still unexplained reasons, Thailand is pandering to the monarchy in Bahrain in dealing with Hakeem. He would be a political prisoner in Bahrain, and that’s why he is a designated refugee. Thailand’s regime has failed to comply with international law. He’s now detailed for another few months in a Thai jail when he should be living freely in Australia.

Third, on political prisoners, activist and lese majeste detainee Jatupat Boonpattararaksa has had two charges of illegal assembly dropped by a military court. Similar charges against six other activists were also dropped. The court had no option as these charges became unenforceable several weeks ago. However, others continue to languish in prison on lese majeste and political assembly charges. The justice system under the junta has failed.

Update 1: The Hakeem al-Araibi case has become so bizarre for the regime that it is coming up with completely ridiculous stories to justify its inability to behave according to international norms and law.

First, there’s Thailand’s head of immigration Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, known by his real nickname, “Big Joke.” He’s dissembled on how Hakeem’s case is different from that of Rahaf Mohamed. It is, but his explanation is ridiculously daft. He says Hakeem’s case is different “because Hakeem had an arrest warrant out for him… [and] Hakeem was the subject of an extradition request…”. Of course, under international law, neither is legitimate. In other words, Thailand’s junta and its officials are acting for Bahrain, but not saying why they are doing this. Our guess is that they cannot say because the explanation leads to the king’s palace.

Second, the “Australian government … urged Thailand to exercise its legal discretion to free a refugee football player who lives and plays in Australia and told a Bangkok court that he refuses to be voluntarily extradited to Bahrain.” Ridiculously and breaching international law, Thai foreign minister, Don Pramudwinai, again stated that “Australia and Bahrain should resolve the issue in discussions between themselves…”. Minister Don seems to ignore the fact that it is Thailand that arrested Hakeem and now holds him. It is Thailand’s responsibility to make a correct and legal decision.

Such a ludicrous statement by a minister would be inexplicable for any normal administration. It is unbelievable that the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has to point out that “Thailand’s office of the Attorney-General has publicly confirmed that Thailand’s Extradition Act allows for executive discretion in such cases. This was also confirmed by the prosecutor in the context of yesterday’s hearing…”.

Dressing and shackling Hakeem is a part of the junta’s effort to portray him as a criminal rather than a refugee. How much deeper can this regime dig itself into a royalist quagmire?

Update 2: And it gets worse for the junta. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said “he was ‘disturbed’ to see Araibi with shackles on his feet when he arrived at the Criminal Court on Monday.” Talking on national television, he added: “I thought that was very upsetting and I know it would have upset many Australians, and I respectfully reminded the Thai prime minister that Australians feel very strongly about this…”.

Update 3: A potential football boycott of Thailand has begun:

Football Federation Australia announced Wednesday it had scrapped the game against China, a scheduled warmup ahead of next month’s qualifiers for the Asian under-23 championships.





Anti-democrats and twisted justice

24 01 2019

We are not lawyers. However, we do think that some of the odd legal decisions emanating from Thailand’s courts would baffle the best-qualified lawyers.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Supreme Court:

upheld the suspended one-year jail sentence and 50,000-baht fine handed down to three Democrat [Party] politicians for defaming former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during their TV programme.

In February 2012, on the anti-democrat Blue Sky Channel, run by the Democrat Party, Sirichoke Sopha, Chavanont Intarakomalyasut and Thepthai Senapong, all MPs, accused then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of missing parliament to engage in an extra-marital affair at a Bangkok hotel.

Of course, there are the usual double standards involved in suspending a sentence for these misogynists. Those on the other side of politics have quite often spent periods in jail for defamation.

The Supreme Court ruled that the comments “were unfair.” But then the tremendous bias of the courts was revealed:

The court suspended the jail term because Yingluck, as a national administrator, should have shown transparency but had never explained the matter to the public. Only during the trial did she reveal she had a business meeting with a property developer.

If true, there was no reason to keep the activity secret and raise suspicions, the court ruled. The court saw the three men had good intentions and therefore suspended the jail term for two years.

The courts have effectively confirmed that misogyny is an acceptable political weapon. That’s to be expected as both the civilian anti-democrats and military misogynists have been comfortable attacking Yingluck as a woman and women in general.

Justice in Thailand is riddled with and twisted by politicized injustice.





International media on monarchy and military

23 12 2018

It’s the holiday season, so we at PPT felt that a bit of a round-up of what the international media is saying about Thailand. Unsurprisingly, the topics are monarchy and military.

The monarchy stories revolve around silly and sad notions. The silly is that ultra-royalists and others in Thailand have been so brainwashed by decades of palace and other propaganda over the claimed brilliance and alleged capacity of royals that no criticism can be made or implied. It is sad that the police and other elements of the (in)justice system accept complaints from a motley collection of royalist political activists, mad and corrupt military leaders, the palace itself and anyone else who shows up at a police station that can result in ridiculous secret “trials” for lese majeste and huge prison sentences.

The most recent case involves a blogger who commented on a frock “designed” by one of the king’s daughters, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana. PPT couldn’t give a fig about the dress, but the controversy caused by a dopey royalist political candidate laying a complaint has caught the attention of the international media. Here are some of the stories:

The Guardian: “YouTube host faces charges for criticising Thai princess’s Miss Universe dress

TIME (via AP): “YouTuber Could End Up in Court After Criticizing Miss Universe Gown Designed by Thai Princess

Yahoo Finance: “YouTuber faces charges for calling a Miss Universe contestant’s dress ugly — here’s why

Ironically, as the police “investigate” the supposed slander of a dress allegedly designed by the princess, the senseless ultra-royalist has been arrested for a previous allegation of fraud.

On the military, the stories are about how the junta is intent on political longevity via its rigged election – no surprise for PPT readers. Here are some of the stories and op-eds:

EurAsia Review (via Bernama): “Thailand: Military To Retain Grip On Power Post-2019 Polls – Analysis

East Asia Forum has an op-ed by academic Kevin Hewison: “Another year of military dictatorship in Thailand

Deutsche Welle: “Will Thailand’s military step aside after elections?





NACC missing in inaction

21 12 2018

The National Anti-Corruption Commission is a politicized and partisan organization. Meant to be an independent agency, it is a tool of the military junta and other anti-democrats.

The Bangkok Post reports that a legal pressure group has pushed the NACC “to speed up probes into irregularities in police station construction projects, saying the anti-graft agency would be held to account if they failed to do so.”

“Speed up” is a euphemism for “do something!”

The case referred to is the “construction of 396 police stations in question, worth 6.67 billion baht, was part of a project endorsed by cabinet members during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration.” Of course, this (non)investigation by the NACC involves then “deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban was accused of not having consulted fellow ministers regarding changes made later to the project. He allegedly granted PCC Development & Construction the right to be the sole contractor, which was accused of abandoning the project later.” THe question is, who pocketed the money. No prizes for guessing.

So, exactly how long has the NACC been (not) investigating? The report states the “NACC in 2013 set up a panel to determine whether Mr Suthep had breached Section 157 of the Criminal Code by committing misconduct or dereliction of duty regarding his handling of the project.”

Sometime in some junta-inspired fairy tale, the NACC said it would wrap up “the case by the end of this year.” They have another 10 days.

We wonder if the (non)investigation of Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s dead man’s watches is going on for another four years? We guess that if the junta pulls of its stolen election, four years would be just about enough for another junta-led government to see out its term.

But there’s a twist to Suthep’s (non)investigation. Just a few days ago, completely out of the blue and following two acquittals, Tharit Pengdit, formerly of the Department of Special Investigation, changed a plea to guilty in a defamation suit against him by Suthep, lodged in 2013.How’s that work? Who threatened Tharit?

We can only marvel at how the “justice system” works so well for the great and the good, implementing double standards and protecting big shots in business, politics and the civil and military bureaucracies.

The junta just adores such pliable non-independence.





Suppressing information on lese majeste trials

24 10 2018

Our second post on information missed earlier is from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and is about a Military Court’s direction to suppress publication of witness testimonies and court dockets in the case against lese majeste detainee Thanakorn:

The Bangkok Military Court has conducted a hearing on a probable case against Anon Nampa, an attorney on 3 October 2018 at 13.30. It stemmed from the publication of evidence given by the prosecution witness, Maj Gen Wijarn Jodtaeng, in the case against Mr. Thanakorn (last name withheld) who was accused of sharing Rajabhakti corruption diagram and clicking ‘like’– deemed offensive to a royally adopted dog. The Court also ordered Anon Nampa to inform the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) to have the information removed from the published article “Military official, who reported the case against a person for sharing Rajabhakti corruption diagram and clicking ‘like’– deemed offensive to a dog, actually did not know how to use Facebook, but he insisted that by just clicking ‘like’ on a page offensive to the monarchy is in itself the commission of royal defamation” (http://www.tlhr2014.com/th/?p=8950). The article to be removed by the Court’s order has been published on TLHR’s website. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who is not a party in this case, would like to take this opportunity to explain to the public as follows;

1. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) has been providing legal and litigation assistance to vulnerable people whose rights have been affected by the exercise of the state power as a result of the coup in 2014, including cases concerning the freedom of expression and cases of civilians who are prosecuted in the Military Courts.

According to the statistics collected by the Judge Advocate General’s Department, from 25 May 2014 to 30 June 2018, civilians have been indicted with the Military Court in over 1,723 cases and at least 281 cases are pending the review. TLHR has been assisting in 58 cases in which the civilians stand trial in the Military Court, of which 12 cases have been “secretly” conducted by the court’s order. Furthermore, the Military Court also prohibited any observer from recording the court proceeding. Recently, the Military Court banned a public dissemination of dockets in two cases, namely, the case concerning a call for election on 24 September 2018, and the case against Mr. Thanakorn on 3 October 2018.

2. According to Section 30 of the Civil Procedure Code, “The Court shall have power to give to any party or any third person present in the Court such directions as it may deem necessary for the maintenance of order within the precincts of the Court and for the fair and speedy carrying out of the trial.” Nonetheless, the latest direction to suppress the public dissemination of the docket in this case is unrelated to the maintenance of order within the precincts of the Court. Besides, the dissemination of the docket shall not affect the justice to be served in the case. Thus, it cannot be deemed a violation to the Section 30 of the Civil Procedure Code.

3. A public trial is one of the core elements to ensure the right to the fair trial according to the Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As a state party to the Convention, Thailand is obliged to implement its provisions. According to the principle, a person is entitled to a fair and public trial. The public trial does not only involve those in the court room, but it must be open and accessible to every individual.

Moreover, the public trial can ensure the transparency of the justice process and can guarantee the rights and the freedoms of the people. Therefore, apart from being important in itself, the public trial is an entitlement– necessary to ensure other elements that constitute a fair trial and to build trust in the justice process among the public.

4. TLHR has been reporting details of every hearing that the Court did not order the trial to be conducted secretly and suppressed the dissemination of the docket. The information has derived from a summary of evidence given in the Court and from the trial observation.

The publication of contents summarized from the witness testimonies is not tantamount to the publication of the court documents. After all, such publication has been granted a consent by the defendants. This is to ensure transparency in the justice process, particularly the trial of civilians in the Military Court, where the defendants are supposed to enjoy less safeguards that protect their right to fair trial, compared to trials in the Court of Justice.

Therefore, the dissemination of information concerning the court proceeding does not only affect the trial, but also helps gracing the image of the Military Court itself. It is a better alternative than ordering the hearing to be secretly conducted and the suppression of the docket dissemination.

TLHR is determined to provide legal assistance to civilians tried in the Military Court and to inform the public of related information. This is to ensure the transparency and the safeguard of the right to the fair trial amidst the extreme deterioration of democracy and the rule of law.

With respect in people’s rights and liberties

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)