The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





Monarchy, Bahrain and a refugee

7 05 2019

Paul Sanderson at The Sydney Morning Herald has a long article on coronation. But it is not the shallow accounts that mark discussion of the monarchy mainly because Sanderson has a unique hook for the story:an account of why “refugee and footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was imprisoned for more than two months on a Bahraini Interpol red notice that should never have been issued…”.

From The Guardian

We won’t recount the quite useful discussion of the rise to power of the current king, but will briefly deal with the al-Araibi story as it interweaves with the death of Vajiralongkorn’s father in October 2016. Vajiralongkorn didn’t take the throne for about six weeks, although that is not what the “record of reign” now says.

Sanderson states:

Stories of what happened in the weeks and months that followed Bhumibol’s death are only now emerging, whispered quietly by government officials and senior diplomats who fear that speaking openly will transgress the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws.

He says “what they say could provide at least a partial explanation” of al-Araibi detention and asks: “Was it related to the new Thai king’s endeavours to consolidate his political and financial power?”

Regular readers may recall that monarchy was mentioned in our first post on al-Araibi’s detention, although there was no information on exactly what was going on at the time that gave special focus to this unfortunate man’s detention.

Sanderson is more specific, asking “what role did a $1.6 billion commercial deal between the royal houses of Bahrain and Thailand play?”

Noting Vajiralongkorn’s various grasping land property deals in Thailand, Sanderson observes that it was when “the old king was in a coma, that his heir negotiated a deal with the royal family of Bahrain that would earn him nearly $1.6 billion.” The deal saw “Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau sold a 60 per cent stake in the Kempinski Hotels Group for €1 billion to the Bahraini royal family.”

PPT earlier posted on the opaque deals that gave Kempinski to the CPB.

As Wikipedia has it, “Effective 16 February 2017, the two existing shareholders of Kempinski AG formalized previous plans for an equity transfer between them. The majority shares of Kempinski AG shall be held by the existing Bahraini shareholder while the shareholder from Thailand will now own a minority.”

This deal was more than a year before the footballer was snared at Bangkok’s main airport, but the business dealing between the two royal houses remains and Vajiralongkorn’s purse was swelled substantially by the deal.

This may help explain al-Araibi’s 76-day detention. As Sanderson states, “one of the biggest mysteries was why the south-east Asian kingdom persisted with the case to refoul him long after a wrongly issued Interpol red notice was revoked.”

Obviously, the Bahrain monarchy wanted him. But what was Thailand doing?

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only spoke in code. The country, it said, “finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr Hakeem’s custody”. The ministry repeatedly stressed the case could not be dropped once it had started.

Thai Immigration Police chief Surachate Hakparn was a little clearer. He said the order to keep Araibi in detention came from “above”. He has since been removed from his post. Rumours abound that he offended the king in another matter.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former diplomat, puts it this way:

It’s not just about feeling Thailand owes Bahrain…. This is beyond skin deep because it’s between two royal families. The Thai king is in the process of wanting to be respected by other royal families. Being a diplomat in Thailand, the number one priority is not about maintaining good relationships. The number one priority is about making sure you serve the royal family…. This royal family travels. Fifty per cent of our operation [in the Foreign Ministry] is about the monarchy, we have to serve the monarchy before anything else.

Kempinski remains a private company and little public information is available. However, published data continues to list two Thai members of its supervisory board are from royal agencies.

Other relations between royals in each country are topics of speculation. It is stated that “a senior Bahraini royal was in Thailand in the days after Araibi’s arrest.” It remains unclear how the relationships between countries and between royal houses has been impacted by al-Araibi’s case.





Rose on the republic

3 09 2014

PPT received the following communication from Rose Amornpat. It is a post that recently appeared at her Facebook page. We reproduce it in full:

Thai royals have always and surreptitiously declared that all the money and assets at the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) belong to the Thai people. But from my research, the CPB never share their wealth to the Thai people in anyway shape or form during the past decades either in terms of dividend contributions to the nation’s general fund or sharing in the cost of any projects for the benefit of the Thai people.

Thai king is ranked the number one richest monarch in the world and is worth US $40 Billion Dollars from the Forbes magazine

So let it be known to the world that all the stocks in SET belonging to the CPB are in fact belong to the Thai people.

All the real estate, personal properties, cash and shares in all the foreign exchanges and open or secret bank accounts in Switzerland, the UK, the USA , the EU and in Singapore that are allegedly belong to the CPB are in fact belong to the Thai people.

All the stocks and bonds in the Kempinski Hotel, various insurance companies and retail chain stores in the USA and the EU all belong to the Thai people.

All the interest in the Siam Park in Spain also belong to the Thai people.

This is for the record and urgent notice to all the relevant parties outside of Thailand! The interest in the stocks and bonds including cash and properties allegedly belong to the Crown Property Bureau are in fact belong to the Thai people.

When Thailand becomes a Republic, you then should know where such assets and interest should go to.

Thank you.

-Chatwadee Rose Amornpat

ถึงบุคคล สถาบันการ การเงินและการธนาคารที่เกี่ยวข้องกับสำนักงานทรัพย์สินส่วนพระมหากษัตริย์:

พระราชวงศ์ไทยบอกว่าเงินทั้งหมดและทรัพย์สินที่สำนักทรัพย์สินพระมหากษัตริย์ Crown Property Bureau (CPB) เป็นของคนไทย แต่จากการวิจัยของฉัน CPB ไม่เคยแบ่งปันความมั่งคั่งของพวกเขากับคนไทยในช่วงทศวรรษที่ผ่านมาทั้งในแง่ของการมีส่วนร่วมเงินปันผลให้แก่กองทุนรวมทั่วไปของประเทศหรือแบ่งปันในค่าใช้จ่ายของโครงการใด ๆ เพื่อประโยชน์ของคนไทย .

พระมหากษัตริย์ไทยเป็นพระมหากษัตริย์ที่ร่ำรวยที่สุดในโลกและมีมูลค่า US $ 40 พันล้านดอลลาร์จากนิตยสาร Forbes

เพื่อให้มันเป็นที่รู้จักไปทั่วโลกว่าหุ้นทั้งหมดในตลาดหลักทรัพย์ที่เป็นของ CPB ในความเป็นจริงเป็นของคนไทย

อสังหาริมทรัพย์ทั้งหมด สมบัติส่วนบุคคลเงินสดและหุ้นในต่างประเทศและเปิดหรือความลับบัญชีธนาคารในสวิส, สหราชอาณาจักรสหรัฐอเมริกาสหภาพยุโรปและในสิงคโปร์ที่มีถูกกล่าวหาว่าเป็นของ CPB ในความเป็นจริงเป็นของ คน ไทย

หุ้นและพันธบัตรทั้งหมดใน Kempinski Hotel, บริษัท ประกันภัยต่างๆและร้านค้าปลีกในประเทศสหรัฐอเมริกาและสหภาพยุโรปทั้งหมดเป็นของคนไทย

Stocks ในสวนสยาม (Siam Park) ในประเทศสเปนเป็นของคนไทย

นี้สำหรับการบันทึกและแจ้งให้ทราบอย่างเร่งด่วนไปยังทุกฝ่ายที่เกี่ยวข้องต่างประเทศ! หุ้นและพันธบัตรรวมถึงเงินสดและสมบัติที่ถูกกล่าวหาว่าเป็นของสำนักงานทรัพย์สินส่วนพระมหากษัตริย์ในความเป็นจริงเป็นของคนไทย

เมื่อประเทศไทยกลายเป็นสาธารณรัฐแล้ว คุณควรทราบว่าทรัพย์สินดังกล่าวควรจะตกไปเป็นของใคร

ขอบคุณ

-Chatwadee Rose Amornpat





All for Fu Fu

16 03 2013

The German newspaper Bild has reported on yet another European shopping expedition by Thailand’s Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, apparently getting stuff for kids and dogs.

The report begins:

He flies his own Boeing 737 around the world. His father has a fortune of 30 billion euros. He sends his jet from Bangkok to London to his favorite (takeaway) spring rolls…. And now the 60 year-old prince is in Hamburg with a large entourage for a shopping spree!

As usual, the prince is reported to have flown “his” Boeing 737-400 and as soon as it landed, two large Mercedes Benz sedans and eight vans were waiting on the tarmac to collect the prince and his entourage. The prince was whisked off to a suite at the Atlantic Hotel. The story reports that normally goes for 4500 EUR a night, although PPT found that it was only 3,800 Euros tonight. But we guess that the prince gets it for free as it is part of the Kempinski Hotels group, owned by the Crown Property Bureau.

Then the shopping began: “The caravan of ten cars stopped at the first tier Accessories Shop “Pet Shop Boyz” at the Schmilinskystraße (St. George).” Apparently several thousand Euros when on doggie delights and toys. Fu Fu will be ecstatic. The prince then drooped more loot at a toy store near by. The report says the shopping will continue in Munich.

For earlier stories on the prince’s plane, see here.

For earlier shopping stories, see here, here, and here.





Royalist hypocrisy

2 04 2012

This story at the Bangkok Post appeared a few days ago and we are late getting to it. However, it does tell us a good deal about the thinking of some of the elite think about the issues of the day and manage a schizophrenic logic.

Kasem Wattanachai is a former minister in the first Thaksin Shinawatra cabinet, but fell out and was quickly sucked up into the Privy Council and was publicly critical of Thaksin.

The first thing to note is that Kasem appears to accept a report by a law lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration and sponsored by the Ombudsman’s Office, that claims foreigners “own vast amounts of land in Thailand via local nominees.” In fact, the report claimed that “up to one third of land in Thailand is owned by foreigners.”

This claim is complete nonsense and this doesn’t require much brain power to work out. The idea that “foreigners” now “own” about 170,000 km2 of the country boggles the mind. Even if this area was restricted to arable land and land in urban areas, the claim remains unbelievable.

So we have a privy councilor who chooses to believe an unbelievable and outlandish claim.

He then proceeds to lectures “people” should “not let ‘greed’ draw them into cooperating with these foreigners because farmland should be reserved for Thai farmers as their place of work and for their livelihood.”

And while the claim is of “foreigners,” Kasem chooses to single out “rice fields are being sold and rented to investors from the Middle East.” He warned Thais “against helping foreigners acquire land” and urges these farmers to defend their land. As might be expected, he tells them to follow the king’s advice and keep farming and “love” their land.

Ignoring the inherent racism and the royalist banter, it strikes us that the statements are hypocritical.

First, a representative of the richest conglomerate in the country, with extensive foreign joint ventures and large international investments, is telling poor farmers what’s best for them.

Second, as far as we can tell, the Crown Property Bureau’s international investments include landholdings. For example, the Kempinski Hotels group, majority owned by the CPB, with “an international portfolio of 62 hotels” and a “further 43 hotels … under final development or construction in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia” would wonder about being prevented from buying or renting property.

Third, in its early years, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the CPB played a critical role in facilitating the investments of Chinese business people, many of who were recent migrants to the country, and rented and sold plenty of land to them. Post-1957, the CPB also played a direct and pivotal role  in joint ventures with foreign investors. So too did its Siam Commercial Bank (and all the other commercial banks). In addition, the monarchy itself went out and “sold” Thailand to foreign investors.

Were they being greedy too? Is nationalism only for the poor?: if they have no rice, let them eat nationalism and sufficiency “economics”!

As a footnote, it is noted that the CPB  is probably the largest land owner in the country, and owns vast tracts of rural land, and we know little about how the CPB uses that land. A Forbes report the CPB has “vast land holdings that Forbes used as the basis of its estimate: “In central Bangkok, the king owns 3,320 acres; town and country holdings stretch to 13,200″ acres.








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