Watching and waiting

23 02 2018

In the land of the military dictatorship, double standards are the guiding principle when it comes to law. While there were similar patterns seen in the past, it needs to be remembered that the junta seized the state in the 2014 coup and expelled an elected government publicly trumpeting the need for reform, its opposition to corruption and rule of law.

Of course, some seasoned observers knew from bitter experience that all of this was bluster and it wouldn’t be long before the nepotism, corruption, impunity and the double standards that are definitional of military regimes were seen.

While many of the junta’s anti-democrat put up with early examples of corruption (such as Rajabhakti Park) and were prepared to turn a blind eye to lese majeste repression, murder (what has happened to the evidence associated with the Chaiyapoom Pasae case?), censorship and political repression, a range of issues have seen even diehard yellow shirts turning away from the junta. These issues include: the election “delay,” double standards in the law and the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches.

On the latter, many will be stunned to read that the National Anti-Corruption Commission continues to delay on its investigation. The NACC says that it will (again) “write to Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon in the next few days, demanding he provide specific details on how he acquired 25 luxury watches…”.

We count at least three previous letters asking for the same information.

NACC president Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, himself polluted by his relationship to the Deputy Dictator, said the “deputy premier will be asked to furnish precise details of the watches exposed in recent news reports, including the brand names, price tags and dates he wore them…”.

What did the previous letters ask for? Did they not ask for such details? If not, why not? Pol Gen Watcharapol must explain this.

The NACC has given Gen Prawit another 15 days to respond. All the other deadlines, like “election” promises, have simply been ignored.

The article suggest that Gen Prawit is not fully cooperating with the NACC. That may be so, but why is the NACC cooperating with Prawit?

On an “investigation” that the NACC recently said would be wrapped up by the end of February, Pol Gen Watcharapol now says the “issue will be clearer [next month]…”.

Unremarkably, Pol Gen Watcharapol said “the deputy premier has informed the NACC he was too busy with his duties” and that Prawit “may need some time to gather the information as some of the watches were worn a long time ago … adding he did not suspect Gen Prawit was deliberately stalling.”

It sounds like collusion and a cover up to us.

Another case that is defining of double standards is that of leopard killing and eating tycoon Premchai Karnasuta of Italian-Thai Development and dozens of other companies. Not that long ago we posted on his seeming disappearance despite ongoing investigations of his illegal hunting.

Police have now issued a second summons to Premchai and other members of his hunting party “inviting him to answer additional charges of cruelty to animals…”. All had failed to respond to the first summons. His lawyer didn’t even bother to provide a particular reason for his client’s failure to appear.

Not showing up to answer a summons is not uncommon, but this is a high-profile case and we well recall the way poor farmers were mistreated under the same laws. Not that long ago a couple of farmers were arrested by police and quickly sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced by half because they had confessed. Their “crime” was picking mushrooms from a protected forest. They did not shoot and eat  endangered animals. But the law works differently for the rich.

And so it goes on and on….

Military business is always corrupt

19 09 2017

With virtually all of the various corruption complaints made since the military came to power through its illegal coup in 2014 having been dismissed, perhaps it is no surprise that the military is now using its taxpayer-funded facilities in money-making ventures.

Of course, some of this has been seen in the past, with military property used by state enterprises in the past, including for airports. The corruption that dogs Thai Airways and the Airports Authority are, in part, a result of the military connection.

Of course, as absolutely everyone knows, under the military dictatorship, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is not concerning itself with military corruption. The NACC does not want to be bothered by anyone other than Shinawatras and certainly doesn’t want to get in trouble with its political bosses.

But, really, is no one officially interested in the already rewarded submariners in the Navy constructing “a new ferry terminal at Chuk Samet deep-sea port in Sattahip, part of the infrastructure development for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)”?

Why on earth is the Navy investing taxpayer money for the development of “a port serving cruises, cargo vessels and ferries linking Pattaya, Chon Buri and Rayong with other destinations, including Koh Chang in Trat and Hua Hin district across the Gulf in Prachuap Khiri Khan province”?

The land is also state land, paid for by taxpayers.

The investment space “will have souvenir shops, a food court, ticket counters and boarding areas…. It one of 13 projects with total estimated cost of 2 billion baht to be undertaken by the navy under the EEC blueprint.”

Now we know why so many business suits are Navy blue. But, seriously, this sounds like a recipe for more military corruption.

When the military is on top X

22 08 2017

We haven’t highlighted the normalization of military rule in Thailand for a while. Our last post on this was in early July and in addition to all the repression going on, which is now standard practice, we notice three stories worthy of attention as showing what to expect when military regimes are in place.

First, it is reported that yet another army recruit has dies in suspicious circumstances. The military, which usually “investigates” itself and compliant cops walk along with them, says, “no foul play.” His family says something different:

The soldier’s family found him unconscious in his bedroom and bleeding from the nose and mouth, according to his mother, Malaiporn. He was rushed to Surat Thani Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Ms Malaiporn said her son had returned home with two other conscripts on Saturday night, and had complained he was feeling tired. She said the two other conscripts had told her daughter that Pvt Noppadol had been physically disciplined in the camp.

This is not the first instance. We reproduce a Bangkok Post graphic here. When the military is on top, justice goes missing.

Second, and related, military officers become more or less untouchable when the military is on top:

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has been asked to speed up an investigation into the disappearance of a senior education official in Si Sa Ket after two new findings: suspicious activity on the woman’s Facebook account and a report that a female corpse has been found near the Thai-Lao border.

The mother of the missing official, Juthaporn Oun-on, 37, lodged a petition Monday with Pol Gen Chakthip at the Royal Thai Police Office asking for better progress in the case, which has already been going on for over a month.

Because a prime suspect is an army officer, “we’re afraid we’ll not receive fair treatment,” Ms Juthaporn’s mother Laem said, referring to the potential for a cover-up.

Third, when the military is on top, dictators become king-like/god-like in being “skilled” in almost everything. In Korat, The Dictator is claimed to have made decisions about railway design:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has decided the Chira-Khon Kaen double track railway will be partially elevated when it passes through downtown Nakhon Ratchasima, ending local people’s worries the city would be divided by a giant wall according to the original plan….

The original design of the section, which would cut through roads in Muang district in 15 places, was due to be fenced by 2-metre walls….

“The premier’s order will result in changing the design, with a new round of construction bidding due to open,” he said.

”The budget will be increased by 2.2-2.6 billion baht,” he added, adding this will be on the agenda of the mobile cabinet meeting in Nakhon Ratchasima today.

The change might cause delays to the project of about 12 months, he said.

General Prayuth as populist rail designer? That’s what you get when the military is on top.

Updated: Guns and grenades II

5 06 2017

The military’s response to the guns and grenades arms trading events of recent days is interesting.

For a start, as The Nation reports, the “National Council for Peace and Order has instructed regional Army officers to investigate recent cases of weapon trafficking.”

Yes, that’s the military junta telling its minions to “investigate” itself. Military “investigating” military is the basis of these events. The military has long demanded this privilege, but in the current circumstances, where the military controls government, all ministries, and so much more, accusations of conflict of interest seem too limited. The military state suffocates everything. It is a military dictatorship.

Statements that Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart, who is the junta’s “secretary,” “telling officers to get tough on criminals who tried to avoid detection by new methods such as using social media and couriers to transport drugs and weapons” misses the issue completely.

But that’s the point. Deflect criticism by focusing on methods, not the culture of impunity that has allowed virtually every senior military officer to become wealthy beyond their salaries. The military is built on the corruption that comes with its political interventions.

General Chalermchai is said to have “also expressed concern that the recent case suggested weapons trafficking in border areas was occurring and urged officers at border checkpoints to screen vehicles for illegal items without exception, including state-issued cars and civilian automobiles that display government stickers…”.

What he is saying is that he’s disappointed that this trafficking has hit the headlines. Such headlines have occurred regularly over the decades – back to the 1940s – and they go away and the trading goes back to “normal,” largely controlled by the military and police.

The point elsewhere response has also come from the jewel and gold encrusted Deputy Dictator, General Prawit Wongsuwan. He “ordered officers to pay special attention to the southern border provinces especially during the fasting month of Ramadan…”. No one has mentioned southerners in these cases, but the General seems to want false leads.

The response of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) to the arrest of one of its officers with multiple war weapons is telling. Among other largely secret roles, ISOC is a specialist anti-democrat organization that arranges “third-hand” political interventions. It seems to want to create the impression that the soldier involved with the weapons was carrying a false ISOC ID card. They know that this excuse has worked previously.

And, there’s no more news about Vice Adm Rattana Wongsaroj’s role. He’s the marine commander for Trat and Chanthaburi provinces who reportedly rushed to the navy site where the officer found smuggling weapons was being held.

While on such matters, a footnote: what happened to all those corruption cases around Rolls Royce? No news? Is that really surprising to anyone?

Update: The military brass, keen to throw all and sundry off the scent, have made claims that weapons trafficking is by implicitly claiming their own innocence: “Military top brass on Tuesday vowed to suppress illicit arms trade by some low-ranking soldiers who have been involved in stealing and selling state weaponry online and across the border.” When one of those involved in recent cases is an ISOC intelligence officer, the scent should be leading to the top brass.

Guns and grenades I

5 06 2017

Over the past several years, we have had several posts on military involvement in weapons trafficking. Often this trafficking is one of the money-making ventures used by senior commanders  to produce illicit loot and unusual wealth. In short, arms trafficking is a perquisite of rank, using underlings to move and sell the weapons.

Of course, such actions can involve rogue soldiers but it is the impunity they get from their uniforms and the political dominance of their bosses that allows them to engage in illicit money-making.

There are two recent reports worthy of note about military gun-running and weapons trading.

The first is of a mail-order weapons scam. Military grenades were being sent via couriers. This came to light when “eight M67 grenades were found with a courier” in Bangkok.

The military were involved in the investigation. That seems odd in itself, although police are mentioned later in the report.

As usually happens, they were able to immediately blame “a network of 30 people including a Bangkok-based soldier…”. It is said that “a source” claims “the military had been tracking as many as 30 people suspected of trading in grenades by taking orders from customers in many provinces.”

The “source said the real sender was an engineering sergeant in Bangkok who had stolen grenades from a Bangkok army unit with the intention of selling them.”

The 1st army commander Apirat Kongsompong reportedly “ordered tough actions against any soldier behind the thefts and illicit grenade trade, and against any supervisors who failed to prevent the crime.” Yet it is claimed the “network” has been highly active. Army boss Chalermchai Sitthisart had “ordered army units to cooperate with the police investigation into the grenade sales and check their weapons stocks.”

Any “connection between the illegal grenade sale and three recent bombings in Bangkok” were denied.

The notion that soldiers and officers have long been involved in arms trafficking is not addressed.

The second story is of an ISOC officer running guns. This case came to light after a pickup ran off the road in Trat.

The story is that “local residents and naval paramilitary rangers rushed to help the slightly injured driver from the badly damaged vehicle” when they found weapons and ammunition, in the pickup, being driven by “an air force officer…”.

The officer is said to be “in custody.”Again, he’s held by the military and the police seem not involved, although they too are mentioned later in the report.

The pickup was carrying “29 AK-47 rifles, four 7.62mm machine guns, 4,147 AK-47 bullets, and 53 grenades to be used with launchers inside the vehicle.” In addition, it is reported that “[a]uthorities also found a rocket-propelled grenade, 42 machine-gun magazines, a hand grenade and ten 9mm bullets.”

(We do recall that “investigations” of 2010 events by the military stating that the military didn’t have AK-47s.)

The air force officer driving “was identified as Flt Sgt Pakhin [or perhaps Manas] Detphong of Wing 2 from Lop Buri, attached to the Internal Security Operations Command in Bangkok.” He is said to have “refused to make a statement about the weapons and authorities had yet to find out what his destination was.”

ISOC is an internal security agency that reports to the prime minister and which is under the command of the army’s boss, General Chalermchai. ISOC has been involved in numerous operations to undermine people’s sovereignty and has undermined several governments. No one in it may be trusted.

Very interestingly, “Vice Adm Rattana Wongsaroj, marine commander for Trat and Chanthaburi provinces,” rushed to the navy site where the officer was being held.

An alleged civilian accomplice was given VIP treatment in moving through military border checkpoints, immediately suggesting high-level backing.

This report does note that this “case is the latest in an innumerable series of incidents that expose what appears to be lax security at Thai military facilities where weapons are stored.” That makes Apirat’s gruff statement seem all too tame. He knows as well as everyone else that weapons trading is lucrative for many in the military and makes generals wealthy.


Subs and the scope for “commissions”

30 03 2017

The military dictatorship seems firm on pushing ahead with the purchase of big kit items for the navy. In this case, the promised and approved purchase is of three Chinese submarines.

Of course, the purchase of subs requires considerable spending on pens and docks, repair facilities, and other minor stuff like torpedoes and so on. Not to mention training costs.

Recall General Prayuth Chan-ocha trumpeting a by-2-get-1-free deal the other day? Seems he was babbling, the purveyor of another lie. This is what Wikipedia says:

On 2 July 2015, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) formally selected China’s Yuan-class (Type 041) platform to meet a requirement for three submarines. The RTN’s procurement committee voted unanimously in favour of purchasing the submarine, which has been designated S26T (Thailand), a modified export version of the Yuan-class. On 1 July 2016, the RTN submitted a funding plan for its 36 billion baht submarine procurement project to the cabinet for consideration with the expenditure to be spread over 11 years. If approved, the first submarine would be bought for 13 billion baht between fiscal years 2017-2021. The second and third submarines would be purchased during the remainder of the 11-year period

There is plenty of scope for enrichment. Yes, we know the junta and the dictators say this deal is “transparent,” but does anyone recall a tendering process?

Whatever they say, the evidence is that it is these kinds of big ticket purchases that keep military types very wealthy.

Does anyone recall an admiral being  investigated?

Updated: More corruption allegations

28 03 2017

While there is no news to report regarding Rolls Royce and other related corruption cases, there are more allegations of corruption facing the junta. These are not charges of fabricating plots and murders, but about state action and inaction.

The first story is about wealthy minor prince and former junta minion (two juntas, in fact, the one resulting from the 2006coup and from the 2014 coup).

Former deputy prime minister Pridiyathorn Devakula has very publicly complained about an “irregular move by the military” to “form a national oil corporation that he said would have unrestrained power.”

The National Legislative Assembly has rejigged a Petroleum Bill “in its second and third readings” to “centralise all authority in the management and allocation of national energy in one organisation.” Pridiyathorn says a “group of military officers was behind the addition…”.

He adds that they tried it before, when he was deputy prime minister. He says they were “six former high-ranking military officers in the NLA…”.

He asks: “Why does it emerge in the second reading, and why does the cabinet let it happen?” The answer is that the corrupt military men want to further enrich themselves.

Pridiyathorn explains: “Such a corporation with rights to all petroleum sources in the country could do more than one may imagine. It could organise bidding contests, or even form subsidiaries.” He adds: “When regulation and operation rest within one organisation, who will do the scrutiny? Finally, we cannot control it.” Then as a “good” person of high birth, he adds the bogey: “If politicians later influence it, you will be sorry…”.

Right. But for the moment, it is a bunch of military politicians who will make more money than they thought possible.

The second story is from the anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution. He focuses on borders and the Cambodian border in particular. He claims that “Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwon and 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Wichai Saejorhor of neglect of duty in allowing a casino to be built by Cambodian investors in a disputed border area was filed with the Ombudsman on Monday.”

Borders are the preserve of the corrupt military, allowing considerable wealth accumulation. Borders are, as shown during the past few governments, politically important in Thailand. Srisuwan claims that by “allowing private individuals to invest in a gambling business in the area, the agencies responsible had committed malfeasance, causing damage to society and the country…”.

Both are potentially explosive claims. However, the junta will ambiguate and threaten the media that reports any news that they think destabilize their grip on power.

Update: The Dictator blinked on oil, sort of. He “has rejected the idea of having the Defence Energy Department initially run the national oil corporation if it is to be set up.” He acknowledged that the “idea” for a national company came from “the Thai Energy Reform group led by Rossana Tositrakul, ML Kornkasiwat Kasemsri and Panthep Puapongphan.” All are paid-up yellow shirts and ultra-nationalists. Prayuth kept the idea of a national company open, but not run by the military, at least not for this moment.

On a casino in a disputed border area, the claim has been denied, as expected, but ultra-nationalists are at work again.