How does that happen?

16 08 2018

With the military junta in its fifth year of rule, at times it does seem to lose even its own plot. Below are three news items that PPT struggles to comprehend.

First, in a financial scandal that looks something between a white-collar crime and a Ponzi scheme with new means, the Bangkok Post reports that a big investor on the Stock Exchange of Thailand and staff from at least three commercial banks “are suspected of being complicit in a 797 million baht (US$24 million) scandal involving a foreign investor and the cryptocurrency bitcoin…”. The banks are the big three: Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikorn Bank. Police say that “several of the banks’ employees failed to report money transfers of 2 million baht or higher, a serious violation of bank rules.” Those rules come under the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

It was just a couple of days ago that The Dictator sacked the head of AMLO. That head had only been in the job for about a month. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha used his unbridled Article 44 powers to send the AMLO boss packing. What’s going on there?

(Call us suspicious, but we do recall the big wigs being involved in the Mae Chamoy chit fund that was exposed in the 1980s. The Wikipedia entry states:

The fund had a large number of politically powerful investors from the military and even the Royal Household and as such there were calls for the government to bail out the banks and the chit funds. After discussions with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the nature of which were not made public, the Mae Chamoy Fund was shut down and Chamoy Thipyaso was arrested. She was held in secret by the air force for several days and her trial was not held until after the losses for the military and royal personnel involved had been recovered.)

Second, the Nikkei Asian Review reports that the junta is dumping its Special Economic Zone projects. It observes:

Since taking power in 2014, the military-led government had floated SEZ projects with the idea of building industrial complexes in the poor, remote areas along the country’s border. The plans backfired by fueling property speculation and sending land prices substantially higher, driving up the costs of building the SEZs.

How does that happen? Perhaps it has to do with the third story, with the junta stating it now wants to concentrate on infrastructure rather than SEZs.

Third, the Bangkok Post reports that “Transport Ministry officials have confirmed that auctions for the construction contracts for all sections of the first phase of the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project will commence by the end of the year, despite unsettled negotiations between both countries.” How does that work?

One way it works is by dividing up the work into “14 separate contracts, which will use design and construction blueprints from China.” Quite a few are going to be in the money!





Who pays the parties?

28 03 2011

The Nation has an interesting (and biased) story reporting funding to the three main political parties.

For the Democrat Party, it says the Election Commission’s records show that last year the Party received just 1.38 million baht in donations from 197 people. This year, big Sino-Thai capitalists have been paying up:

Earlier this month, the party reported to the political party registrar that so far this year it had obtained Bt33.15 million from wealthy families connected to the Democrats, such as the Sophonpanichs (major shareholders of the Bangkok Bank), the Bhirombhakdis (who own the company [Boonrawd] that makes Singha Beer), the Chaisongkhrams, the Srivikorns, the Lamsams [Kasikorn Bank], the Thanadireks and Jirakitis.

There have also been donations of about Bt50 million from many of the country’s leading businesses. They include Benchachinda Holding, Yip In Tsoi, Mitr Phol Sugar, and … Advanced Info Service….

Some businesses are not just donors; relatives of their owners are in the Democrat Party. These include the Charoen Pokphand Group, Metro Machinery, and Singha Corp. Young members of some of these families are expected to contest the upcoming election as candidates of the main ruling party.

Of course, it was less than a month ago that the Democrat Party held a high-cost fundraiser that “has yet to report to the Election Commission about the sum raised but early reports put the figure over Bt700 million.” Big business was heavily represented.

Meanwhile, the coalition partner Bhum Jai Thai Party received “donations of almost Bt10 million last year, compared to as much as Bt35 million in 2009.”

The main donors are associated with Newin Chidchob and his family, including “Chiang Mai Construction – which is owned by the father-in-law of banned politician Newin Chidchob, who is regarded as the party’s de-facto leader – Sino-Thai Construction (owned by the family of party leader and Interior Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul), and King Power.” These are the longstanding supporters.

Chaovarat’s company has done especially well from contracts for infrastructre under the Democrat Party regime.

Other supporters include:

… entertainment giant company GMM Grammy and East Water and wealthy figures with political backgrounds such as Somsak Thepsuthin, Sonthaya Khunplume, Sora-at Klinprathum, Suchart Tancharoen, and Teerapol Noprampa – who all are “political comrades” of Newin, who is believed to be pulling strings behind the party.

The story for Peua Thai Party is different, however. The Nation seems to speculate, saying that Thaksin Shinawatra remains the (assumed) biggest backer. It adds that the party “got donations of Bt15 million, according to the EC. Among the major donors were wealthy people close to Thaksin, including Virun Tejapaiboon, Ong-art Ua-apinyakul, and Pichai Naripthaphand.” It adds: “There are only a handful of regular financiers…”. It follows this up with a bunch of speculative comments.

It is clear where the Sino-Thai tycoons are putting their loot; it is with the royalist party. These days, they feel most comfortable being subordinated to the monarchy (as a symbol and the country’s biggest Sino-Thai conglomerate) and prtected by the military’s firepower.





Attempting to map the amart

5 02 2011

A reader sent PPT a link for a new Working Paper by Pramuan Bunkanwanicha, Joseph P.H. Fan and Yupana Wiwattanakantang entitled “Family matters: Valuing marriage in family …firms.” The paper’s abstract states:

This paper presents the fi…rst empirical evidence showing that marriage of family members can establish business or political networks for their family …firms. This research is made possible by a rare dataset of marriages held by families owning business groups in Thailand. The families’’ stocks react positively to the weddings when the partner belongs to a family from a business or political background. Abnormal returns are higher for …firms in the real estate, construction and telecoms industries, which typically depend on extensive networks. Marriage may also lead to horizontal or vertical integration incorporating the fi…rms owned by the now closely connected families.

PPT was not surprised to read a paper by economists who place so much emphasis on the models and regressions that the story is a little lost. Still, they come up with this rather nifty diagram that seems to map part of the ruling class in Thailand, based on the Lamsam family of Kasikorn Bank:

The claim that this is the first study to show the significance of marriage is a little overdone unless the emphasis is on empirical/mathematical analysis. Way back in the mid-1950s, G. William Skinner did a substantial amount of work on the Chinese in Thailand, and came up with some interesting network diagrams:

Skinner’s Leadership and power in the Chinese community of Thailand (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1958) was a path-breaking study of how Chinese and Sino-Thai business people had power in their own communities and developed political alliances:

Skinner isn’t the only one to have looked at power in Thai society and produced these kinds of network diagrams. Kevin Hewison wrote of these things in the 1980s. This is his summary network diagram:

Hewison’s diagram is from “The Structure of Banking Capital in Thailand,” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, 16, 1 (1988), pp. 81-91.

It is a great shame that the mathematically-inclined authors of the working paper (above) didn’t consult the works of Skinner and Hewison and the work of Suehiro Akira, who has examined family firms in Thailand and much more. PPT considers that more attention to these earlier works might have provided a better historical account of how the ruling class organizes and maintains its power.

Related, PPT thought that this picture from the Bangkok Post was also a revealing illustration of the ruling class’s alliances that allow it to maintain its power, political and ideological:

The picture shows a celebration for the Post Today. The caption states: “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, fourth from left, celebrates Post Today’s eighth anniversary and gives a keynote speech at the Post Today Investment Expo 2011at the Sofitel Centara Grand Bangkok yesterday. Also joining the event were Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, second from left; Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai, fifth from right; Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot, fourth from right; the premier’s adviser Apirak Kosayodhin, second from right; Post Publishing Plc’s board chairman MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, third from left; Post CEO Suthikiati Chirathivat, fifth from left; Post president and COO Supakorn Vejjajiva, third from right; Post Today editor Nhakran Laohavilai, left, and Bangkok Post editor Pattnapong Chantranontwong, right.

In fact, Abhisit used this occasion to unofficially launch his election campaign.





Suspicions

28 07 2010

There have only been a few stories that caught PPT’s attention in the past couple of days amidst by-elections, a bomb blast, the DSI trading accusations with red shirts and others, Thaksin Shinawatra’s birthday, flash protests by red shirts, and an apparently never-ending stream of stories regarding Princess Sirindhorn’s latest visit to China – seemingly essentially a holiday – that finished on 23 July but still screening long portions of the royal news four days later.

Some of the stories have raised questions for us, although PPT knows little more than what is reported in the media. We thought it might be useful to list them.

The first story relates to 28 July as Prince Vajiralongkorn’s birthday and he turns 58. As usual, newspapers have little advertisements that double as birthday felicitations to the prince. PPT only purchased the Bangkok Post, which had a one-page tribute and a series of the company-sponsored adverts. The whole thing is pretty low-key, kicked off with a large color picture of the prince at Wat Phra Kaew yesterday.

As PPT went through the color adverts, we noted they were from: Thai Airways, Boon Rawd Brewery, the Central group (the largest greeting, being a full page), CP Group and one all in Thai from Thai Beverage. The latter also posted a very large billboard celebrating the prince near Pan Fah Bridge (see the picture here). On the same day, PPT was reading The Bangkok Massacres: A Call for Accountability produced by Thaksin’s representatives, Amsterdam & Peroff LLP. On page 16, the report states: “The families controlling some of Thailand’s largest economic empires — among them Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank, Thai Beverage, and TPI Polene — became fierce opponents of Thaksin.”

Maybe PPT was asleep at the wheel, but we hadn’t registered Thai Beverage as a major opponent previously. The company belongs to Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, the liquor, beer and land tycoon. Charoen has been pretty secretive. There’s a chapter on him by Nuolnoi Treerat in Pasuk and Baker’s Thai Capital After the 1997 Crisis (Silkworm). Recently he has been seen sponsoring royal events, including one of Princess Chulabhorn’s ventures. If Charoen has signed up with the royalists, then he has huge wealth and networks to build political support.

A second story is in the Bangkok Post and considers what is designated the “alleged ‘plan’ by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij to change the current yuppiephone concession contracts…”. Then this is slipped in: “mortally wound Shin Corp and its No 1 network Advanced Info Service although that’s not the purpose, perish the thought…”. Given the “plan” is from Korn, a major yellow supporter, maybe this is the purpose. The story goes on to say that the “plan” has “thrown business, government, regulators and even the Senate into a tizzy; the kindest people said Mr Korn had good intentions, lousy planning; others were not so charitable; they noted that his plan to issue AIS, Dtac of Norway and True Move of Thailand with 15-year licences was highly questionable in legal terms…”.

The same column reminds us that Juti Krairiksh, said to be “minister of Internet Censorship in Thailand (MICT)” as well as “sniffing out dodgy websites” has “bragged that one of his greatest achievements was the arrest of three people who posted information critical of the monarchy.”

The third story relates to the Big C bombing and the Bangkok Post story that the “emergency decree will remain in place, at least in Bangkok, … Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says.” Abhisit said that “some parties were determined to carry out dangerous acts and it was the duty of the authorities to try to stop them. That meant they needed the proper legal tools.” Proper legal tools mean the power to detain and anything else the government seems to want to do to opponents.

Just a day before, in the venerable Bangkok Post, Abhisit’s motor-mouthed personal spokesman Thepthai Senapong had attacked critics of the imposition of the emergency decree, saying the bombing proved that the decree was necessary. He added: “The old saying that there is a calm before the storm is still worth considering…”. There’s little doubt that the hardliners in the government, like Thepthai, want the emergency decree in place for a lot longer, benefit from every incident. Much of the cabinet is very twitchy about “security” and, as they have admitted, personally frightened.

The fourth and final story, also in the Bangkok Post, was buried down on about page 4, and the headline suggested to PPT that the Ministry of Justice was going to investigate allegations that a bribe attempt was made in the Department of Special Investigation missing jewellery scandal of a few days ago. But, no. The Justice Ministry was launching an investigation into the rumours themselves!

The rumours were that the “owner of a shop who complained three pieces of jewellery had disappeared from a Department storeroom had been offered 300,000 baht to retract her accusation.”

The “secretary to the justice minister, Fuangwit Aniruttaewa, said it was possible that the claims the jewellery had disappeared were the work of certain people in the ministry who wanted to discredit the justice minister and DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit.” Remarkably, Fuangwit disclosed that an “investigation” had “found the jewellery said to be missing from the DSI storeroom had not disappeared at all. The owner of the store, identified only as Ms Chayaphon, had been told the items had been located.”

Apparently, the three items had just been … well, we don’t know. Hanging off some rich lady perhaps? Miraculously, they have turned up! So what was going on inside the DSI that caused the jewellery to be lost and found at about the same time?