Long memories, retribution, and rewards

1 10 2020

Back in late 2015, the military junta promoted events to make then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn look more normally king-like. These were the “Bike for Mom” in August 2015 and the “Bike for Dad” in December 2015. Not everything went to plan.

Amid rumors of a plot to assassinate someone, Major General Suchart Prommai was charged with lese majeste. He and several others were said to have fled Thailand. The others were: Pol Col Pairoj Rojanakhajorn, a former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 2; and his then deputy Pol Lt Col Thammawat Hiranyalekha, as well as Col Khachachart Boondee.

Suchart was a former 11th Infantry Regiment commander, and was stripped of military rank. At the time, a report stated that he and his co-accused had “solicited money which they claimed would be used to fund the production of T-shirts for the ‘Bike for Mom’ cycling event…”.

These charges/accusations also involved fortune-teller and then prince confidante Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, known as Mor Yong, Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, Suriyan’s aide, and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha. They were secretly arrested on or about 16 October 2015, charged with lese majeste. The three were taken to a then secret temporary prison inside the 11th Army Circle base.

A week after they were incarcerated, fears were expressed for their safety. A report stated that “special wardens” were appointed including “military officers and guards from the Corrections Department,” and their task was “to take care of three suspects…”.

Both Suriyan and Prakrom were soon dead. Screaming cover-up and following his earlier assurances that all men were safe and healthy, the Minister for Justice Gen Paiboon Khumchaya declared the cases closed in less than 36 hours.

The military junta quickly washed its hands of Suriyan’s death, just as it had of Prakrom’s, and it was business as usual.

Years later, Khaosod reports that two of the officers accused of lese majeste in 2015-16  were recently stripped of their royal decorations by a palace order:

An announcement published in the Royal Government Gazette said Lt. Col. Thammawat Hiranyalekha and Col. Pairot Rojanakachorn lost both of their police ranks and any decorations they received from … the King. The order cited the court’s arrest warrants on the two men for royal defamation and falsely claiming ties to the monarchy for personal gains.

Another police officer, Lt. Col. Thanabat Prasertwit, former deputy chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division, was also said to have conducted similar wrongdoings and subsequently stripped of his royal decorations in the same announcement.

Pairot, who served as a commander of the Crime Suppression Division, and his deputy Thammawat were charged in 2015 after police launched a crackdown on a massive criminal ring in which nearly 30 people were arrested for profiteering from their royal connections.

Pairot, Thammawat, and Thanabat were said to be close aides of Prakrom, whom police said was the mastermind behind the alleged crime ring. They are believed to have fled overseas.

This sorry tale sheds further light on how the king’s palace operates and how slitherers are rewarded. We note that Gen Paiboon Khumchaya was soon appointed to the Privy Council and that former Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan was recently made a deputy Lord Chamberlain in the palace.





Updated: Questions and “investigating” Corruption Park

27 02 2016

Just a few days ago, Deputy Defense Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr was reported as declaring himself as being in the clear on the Office of the Auditor-General’s “investigation” of Corruption Park. Udomdej stated that the Auditor-General “has found no corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project…”.

Yet, just a couple of days later, Channel NewsAsia reports that Justice Minister General Paiboon Khumchaya has “asked the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) to further investigate alleged irregularities … in order to clear lingering public doubts about claims of corruption and kickbacks.”

Army at the park

Why does Corruption Park refuse to go away? Who is keeping it on the political agenda?

As the report states, the “funding for the project, … in a 35.5 hectare military property, has been linked to allegations of involved military officers having privately benefited from the construction of the park.”

Why is that the Minister has asked for more investigations from the Auditor-General when it has “already finished its investigation into the project and concluded that all procedures were followed correctly.”

Paiboon states that “not all questions have been answered and that there are still three to four unresolved issues.” He is not saying what these issues are. He is not saying why previous “investigations” have left these unresolved.

Why is Paiboon continuing investigations when the junta has previously tried to cover-up?

We don’t know the answers to the questions raised above nor to other questions.

Are there splits in the junta? Is a faction in the military seeking to get rid of Udomdej? Why are investigations continuing even after Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has been a sponsor of the Foundation associated with the Park? Why has the junta been so agitated by a Facebook page posting about military officers associated with the scandal who have fled the country?

Update: The Bangkok Post has an editorial on Corruption Park. It begins: “Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya is correct. The public must be given full details about the construction of Rajabhakti Park, especially in areas where corruption is alleged to have taken place, before they can decide if the project is clean.” It observes:

Some people might regard Gen Paiboon’s reaction as possibly stemming from a personal agenda between him and former army chief Gen Udomdej…. Both Gen Paiboon and Gen Udomdej were tipped to become army chief after Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha retired two years ago. Although the top post went to Gen Udomdej, the sense of rivalry has reportedly lingered.

The Post rejects this. It accuses the Attorney-General’s office of an essentially biased and/or incompetent and far too limited investigation.

Meanwhile, a Bangkok Post story has more details on the flap about corruption in the military and involving the monarchy. It is a confusing and confused story, but emanating from within the military.While unstated in the

Given the incompetence of the police and authorities in “investigating” anything, the huffing and puffing is amusing: “Authorities plan to shut down a Facebook page that allegedly spread false information on two key lese majeste suspects in an act police believe was aimed at confusing their investigation.” Lies and confusion are the stock in trade of the uniforms in Thailand. The claim is that there are “50 people thought to be telling lies about suspects’ whereabouts…”.

The “suspects” are Colonel Khachachart Boondee and Major General Suchart Prommai. Why 50 others should be covering for them on Facebook and “misleading” so-called investigators is not stated. The “investigation” now seems to focus on a Facebook page rather than the alleged crimes.

The story states that the suspects are accused that “they solicited money which they claimed would be used to fund the production of T-shirts for the ‘Bike for Mom’ cycling event in August last year.” However, Colonel Khachachart Boondee, has also been mentioned as close to General Udomdej….





Lese majeste net approaching Udomdej

3 12 2015

General Udomdej Sitabutr is almost finished. Not only is he caught in the Rajabhakti Park corruption scandal, but his associates have again been linked to the very odd and very dangerous “lese majeste” cases associated with the now deceased Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and his supposed “network.” This network was also close to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

A report at the Bangkok Post says that “[s]everal army and police officers linked to a high-profile lese majeste case have fled overseas…”. This is in addition to Col Khachachart Boondee, who has already fled several weeks ago. The report states:

They include Maj Gen Suchart Prommai, former 11th Infantry Regiment commander now stripped of military rank; Pol Col Pairoj Rojanakhajorn, a former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s (CSD) Sub-Division 2; and his then deputy Pol Lt Col Thammawat Hiranyalekha….

They managed to slip out of the country but it has not been confirmed where they are hiding….

Yet again, the claim is that these military and police officers “allegedly cited the monarchy to solicit money from business operators to fund the production of shirts and pins to mark the Bike for Mom event held on Aug 16.”

It is said that “police are confident the suspects will be brought to justice…”. There’s no chance of that, and the longer Udomdej lingers, the more he is at risk, not least because “[i]nvestigators are gathering evidence to seek arrest warrants for others involved…”.

It is said that there is another “suspect, Pol Lt Col Thanabat Prasertwit, deputy chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division’s Sub-division 1,” and his whereabouts is not known.

If nothing is heard of those who are now missing, it may be that the military has them or that they have been murdered.

This dragnet is so broad that it is unclear if lese majeste is now being used to cleanse the police and military of “unreliable” officers or whether this is a further undermining of the prince or even something he ordered in a fit of anger. Simply put, this is a Thailand that is opaque and dangerous.

 





Graft and lese majeste

27 11 2015

Readers will no doubt have noticed that the Army’s corruption case involving the one-billion-baht Rajabhakti Park project has predictably gone rather quiet in recent days. Cover-ups do that and cover-ups work better when there are “distractions.” A few days ago, on this “project,” PPT asked “Who got the loot?” The Army and the military dictatorship do not want to provide any answers.

But how about the lese majeste case involving two dead men, one survivor and one gone missing? How much did Suriyan Sujaritpolwong, Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha and Col Khachachart Boondee gain by their alleged use of the royal connection?

We saw some early claims that their “fraud” involved some very big business interests. We were told that Prakrom was a kind of bag man, but we don’t know for whom. A list of supposedly ill-gotten gains was supplied:

… 26 rooms in La Maison Condominium on Soi Phahon Yothin 24. He had also paid for another four rooms worth 500,000 baht each but had not yet obtained the ownership rights…. Hundreds of thousands of baht in foreign currency, including US dollars and Japanese yen…. Several cars owned by Pol Maj Prakrom, including a Bentley, a Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes-Benz and a Toyota…. 10 valuable Buddha amulets [said to have]… belonged to Pol Col Akkharawut Limrat, the former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 1 and a former member of Pongpat’s network [Pongpat Chayapan] who died after falling from a building. [Of course, this “fall” was never properly investigated.] … [T]hree guitars, including one worth more than 400,000 baht [said to “belong” to Pongpat] … [and] several Buddha images … earlier … seized from Pongpat’s network…. [M]ore than 200 radio communication devices and five signal antennae…. Six police cars which Pol Maj Prakrom had ordered for use in his work have also disappeared.

How did Prakrom get stuff seized from Pongpat? What has happened to all of this stuff now? Has it simply been recycled to someone else who looks after it, as it seems to have been from Pongpat to Prakrom?

The latest bit of news on these three men and their supposedly ill-gotten gains comes from AMLO. Buried down in the story it states: “A source said AMLO had not found any assets in Prakrom’s name but it was trying to determine whether he put his properties in the names of other people.” Ah, well, the above report seemed to say otherwise….

The report goes on to reveal that the “Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) has frozen more than Bt44 million worth of assets belonging to several suspects linked to the ongoing high-profile lese-majeste case.”

That doesn’t sound to us like a huge haul. If these “suspects” were really using the royal name, then we would have guessed they’d be accumulating more than rich people’s change. About 75% of this “haul” is reported to belong to Khachachart alone.

Still AMLO declares: “We have grounds to believe these suspects violated anti-graft laws and anti-money-laundering laws…”.

As the report states, “Jirawong, Suriyan, Prakrom and Kachachart were charged with several crimes in relation to falsely citing the Royal Family for personal gain in the course of collecting donations and sponsorship.”

Based on the reports so far available, it seems that the “personal gain” was quite small in the scheme of corruption deals in Thailand. Perhaps they weren’t very good at corruption? Or perhaps the loot has already been redistributed or collected by a boss or bosses?





Army air freshener

20 11 2015

The Army thinks that a bit of air freshener can eliminate the odor of rotting fish. They are wrong.

SpraySeveral sprays of freshener have been applied to the pile of pungent gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals. First, the military has been blaming others.

Second, they have been repressing those who dare to speak out on the topic. In recent days we have seen Anusorn Iamsa-ard, Acting Deputy Spokesperson of the Puea Thai Party called in for “a discussion at the 1st Army Region Division in Bangkok” after he criticised a “statement of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Defence Minister, about the construction of Rajabhakti Park, a royal theme park featuring gigantic monuments of seven prominent past monarchs in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of central Thailand, which was rife with corruption.”

Then we saw the junta raiding a television station and filing charges against former national police chief Seripisut Temiyavet and for “hosting a TV programme called Siang Seree (Seree’s voice) in which he criticised the NCPO…. Pol Gen Sereepisuth earlier said the military needed to reform itself before trying to reform the police force, and alleged there was widespread corruption in the armed forces, including in the Rajabhakti Park project in Hua Hin.”

Third, the Army “investigation” team has discovered that the Army is, in fact, virginal, squeaky clean, untainted and good. As Khaosod reports it: “An internal review into the billion-baht Rajabhakti Park found no evidence of corruption, army chief Teerachai Nakwanich announced today.”

Nothing. Not a thing. Even the self-admitted scams by former Army boss Udomdej Sitabutr weren’t found: “Following media reports and statements from the former army chief confirming financial irregularities involving overpayments and dodgy commissions paid to middlemen, Gen. Teerachai said inspection of budget and accounts of the project found no such irregularities in the project.” Nothing. Not a thing. Teerachai said: “There is no corruption. Every procedure is transparent…”.

No one will believe them, but this gang has guns and holds power. They can even get away with murder. So a bit of corruption is nothing.

Because the Army decided the Army is good, there “is no need to ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the project…”.

No one will believe them.

Not even our predicted scapegoat, Col. Khachachart Boondee, is accused of anything.

Then things got really strange.

Khaosod reports that “Army officials also did not allow media present to broadcast the news conference live, without stating a reason.” When he was asked “if the army would open the books to for the public to see how money was spent, Teerachai provided extremely odd responses: he “said that would be dangerous.” He then opined: “You want people to die for this? You want me to execute someone and their entire family for this? I mean, we have to look at their intention.” He also declared that the budget for the project was confidential.

The notion that this project is in “dangerous” areas raises interesting questions. Is someone higher up involved? Is that the reason it is dangerous? Is the military covering up for someone else? Or is he just doing a bit more of a freshening spray so that the trail of corruption is more difficult to follow?





The army and the odor of fish II

19 11 2015

The fish smell is pungent.

As the Bangkok Post explains so well, the “military regime is rushing into ‘damage-control mode’ to protect key member Gen Udomdej Sitabutr from becoming embroiled in the scandal surrounding the construction of Rajabhakti Park.”

The junta is protecting General Udomdej, its deputy defence minister and junta member and former Army commander and chairman of the committee that oversaw the 1 billion baht project.

The Post’s story claims that the junta wants to protect Udomdej because part of The Dictator’s justification for seizing power and staying on and on is that one of the regime’s “priorities is to tackle corruption” and that any whiff of it involving a junta member makes the whole junta smell.

We don’t buy this line. For one thing, many junta members, including General Prayuth Chan-ocha, are unusually wealthy and have never explained how it is that state officials accumulate so much personal wealth.

According to one of his assets declarations, Prayuth’s wealth includes:

… 128.6 million baht ($3.9 million) in assets and 654,745 baht ($20,000) in liabilities. … He also reported the transfer of 466.5 million baht ($14.3 million) to other family members.

… His assets include a Mercedes Benz S600L car, a BMW 740Li Series sedan, luxury watches, rings and several pistols.

How can that be?

A second reason we don’t buy the claim is because the military is a hierarchical club arranged a bit like a mafia family, and they stick together. They tend only to abandon family members when there are territorial disputes. So they protect each other for the most part.

Yet Udomdej is clearly approaching a situation where he might have to face the military equivalent of baseball bats. We are thinking of a lese majeste charge or perhaps a suicide in detention.

But protect they will, until they have no option. So the story is that Udomdej “unwittingly gave his subordinates all the responsibility [to run the project] without realising the impacts that could follow.” So the blame is to be attached to “subordinates.” It’s the “I’m so sorry, but my wife has made a mistake!” excuse.

For the moment, his “wife” is Col Khachachart Boondee, who is charged with lese majeste and who has fled the country. Leaks from the Army’s “investigation” and from police are that there were “alleged irregularities in the purchase of T-shirts for the Rajabhakti Bike & Concert event held on Sept 12 in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district.” About 6 million baht was skimmed, allegedly by Col Khachachart Boondee and said to be “Gen Udomdej’s close aide.”

As we already know, Col Khachachart was “dismissed from the army, [and] is said to have fled across the border into Myanmar…”. It is also alleged that the colonel was a kind of bagman, collecting money as “commissions” from those making the giant king statues for the park. Remember that he was “Gen Udomdej’s close aide.”

General Udomdej is clearly in trouble, but scratch any top military commander and there’s dirt. One of the reasons to be in the military (and police) is to become powerful and wealthy, and the whole hierarchy is organized to provide wealth, privilege and power to those at the top. Those who scoop up the illicit funds justify it as their just reward for protecting Thailand’s royalist power structure.





Getting rid of evidence

12 11 2015

The deaths in military custody of lese majeste suspects Prakrom Warunprapha and Suriyan Sujaritpalawong means that evidence of military wrongdoing on the the military’s homage to some monarchs at Rajabhakti Park.

That one of the military men accused in the corruption and royal-linked case – Col Khachachart Boondee – has fled the country also helps the high-level military figures involved and stymies investigations.

Is anyone surprised when yet another person involved has fled? No, no one.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[a]n amulet trader accused of demanding millions of baht of commission fees during the construction of the Rajabhakti Park … has fled the country…”. How convenient is that. He is said to have flown out on a TG flight last Friday. He had already been “interviewed” about the case.

We can’t help but wonder if Jirawong Wattanathewasilp will appear in court today, as scheduled. He’s the ast survivor of the three men arrested for “lese majeste” in mid-October.





The mess gets bigger still

10 11 2015

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Contributing Editor, at the Bangkok Post. In the current circumstances, where witnesses are being “found” dead and their bodies hurriedly cremated and with a testy military dictatorship lording it over the country, Atiya seems quite brave. Brave because she has an op-ed that calls for transparency and scrutiny of the alleged corruption associated with the military’s homage to the monarchy at Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin.

She states that “[a]ccording to its website, the army intended to use the 222-rai park located in the popular resort town of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, as a venue for its important ceremonies and to welcome international figures during their official visits.”

She says the “allegations [of corruption] may cause visitors to feel unsure about what aspect of the park they should be in awe over.” Now that it is associated with several deaths, perhaps murders, visitors may wonder if the ghosts of violent death will haunt the place.

Atiya commends the Central Investigation Bureau for having the “courage to look into alleged irregularities even when they are associated with such a high-profile project under the care of the most powerful institution in the country.” We are sure she means the military, not the monarchy, although the prince did open the place.

She asks “how far the probe will go, and how transparent the army and relevant organisations will be about the case.” Now that those who raised the possibility of corruption are dead or have fled the country, we don’t expect much “progress” unless it is to nail more junta or palace “enemies.” We would guess that all the contractors who were involved will now be very frightened. If this sounds Mafia-like, that’s because it is.

Atiya states that the “park is located on the army’s land, [and] the budget for its construction, estimated at about one billion baht, came exclusively from public donations.” She adds that “donations for the park’s construction can be made to the ‘army’s welfare fund’ account.” The project is “managed” by the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.

One of the people who must be worried for his career and health is former army chief and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr as he heads up the Foundation. The Army, Atiya contends, has “put a little distance between itself and the majestic park,” saying that it is “still technically under the care of the … Foundation.”

Udomdej might consider an overseas trip.

Atiya concludes with a call: “With allegations flying around, the army just has to refute them with evidence. Share the information. Show the public that it indeed did everything aboveboard.”

We don’t think there’s much chance of that.

Udomdej has talked about the Park. He has insisted that “everything was transparent and accountable.” He bleats about “sincere intention of making it national property” but that is unlikely to save him if the powers currently at work take a dislike to him. We already know that the current Army boss doesn’t respect his predecessor.

Udomdej tries to close the distance between the Park project and the Army. He says he only headed the Foundation when he was Army chief and that thw finances were “handled by the army’s financial department, which was ready to show details of the spending with clear evidence.”

He makes a very odd claim in the current circumstances, admitting that “during construction of the project some people demanded kickbacks from some owners of factories that cast the statues of the past kings for the park. After this was uncovered, the money was returned to the factory owners, who agreed to donate it to the project…”. An offer the could not refuse no doubt.

When asked about “Col Khachachart Boondee, commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment, who has been charged with lese majeste and abusing his authority for personal gain in two criminal cases, Gen Udomdej declined to comment, saying the matter was now being investigated by police.” We don’t blame him. After all, the colonel was favored during Udomdej’s time as commander.

When Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and defence minister, was asked Khachachart, he tried to claim that “his alleged offences were a personal matter and nothing to do with the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.”

We guess that both hope that the deaths of two suspects who were singing to police about the “irregularities” means case closed. They are wrong. We may expect the body count to increase further still.





Military lese majeste

9 11 2015

After days of denial, it is reported at the Bangkok Post that “Col Khachachart Boondee, commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment, has been charged with lese majeste and abusing his authority for personal gain in two criminal cases…”.

Despite insistent claims of Army non-involvement, it was the military’s Internal Security Operations Command that lodged the charges, apparently on Saturday, exactly when the denials were being voiced. Strange that, the military is usually bellicose when dealing with lese majeste.

KhachachartThe report is that the charges against the colonel are the same charges “pressed against fortune-teller Suriyan ‘Mor Yong’ Sucharitpolwong and Mr Suriyan’s close aide, Jirawong Watthanathewasilp…”. The charges are described as related to “a past important event”, which the Post says are the “Bike for Mom” last August and “a forthcoming event”, the “Bike for Dad” on 11 December. Interestingly, the Army’s Rajabhakti Park project is not mentioned in Khachachart’s case (but see below).

The report has some details:

It was mentioned in the first complaint filed that the misconduct in the past event occurred at the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen district, and at the company CP All Plc in Bang Rak district of Bangkok between May and Aug 6.

The misconduct linked to the future event, meanwhile, occurred at King Power Co in Ratchathewi district of Bangkok on Sept 20, according to the second complaint filed Sunday by Maj Gen Wijan.

King Power has usually been associated with Newin Chidchob and is a big time sponsor – like CP – of royal events and royalism.

The colonel has reportedly fled to Myanmar.

Meanwhile, “a panel probing alleged irregularities in the construction of the army’s one-billion-baht Rajabhakti Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district found that aside from irregularities surrounding the making of the king statues, the purchase of palm trees at 100,000 baht each was also unusual.” Implicated are numerous persons including an Army major general.

This is going to get bigger and bigger and the debris is going to further weaken the junta.








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