Updated: The satellite system squirm

7 06 2018

Read the junta’s efforts to hose down the satellite deal controversy.

The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is “trying to placate opponents of the multi-billion baht defence satellite project, saying many other elements must be considered before deciding whether it should get off the ground, including the budget and people’s consent.”

People’s consent? Huh? The Dictator is interested? Oh, yes, we forgot, he’s campaigning for “election” selection.

The Dictator ever so solemnly declared that “no proposal regarding the satellite project has been forwarded to the cabinet for consideration.” Does he mean that the military operates on its own? It has free reign? Or is he fibbing, suggesting that no final decision has reached cabinet. Or maybe both.

But The Dictator clearly knows a lot about the project.

Meanwhile, Deputy Dic and Defense Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan argued that “the project is still being studied.” So he knows all about it as well.

He went on to say that “the study was being carried out between the United States and several other nations.” Now, by saying “United States,” he’s implying something government-to-government. Yet the limited information available suggests that the Theia Group is private and just one of several competing private satellite projects on offer and all still in development or even earlier stages than that.

We think Prawit is fibbing when he states: “The US wants Thailand to co-study and be a member, but Thailand has not yet replied…. If we do not join them, the US would look at other countries.” If he’s not fibbing, then he’s revealing information not available anywhere else and presumably that means information shared with allies.

That there is “a letter of intent signed by the Defence Technology Institute in regard to the project,” is, the Deputy Dic says “not a binding contract, but only for acknowledgement.”

Prawit then said: “Right now we still do not know when the project would get off the ground,” and we think that’s right. While “Ministry [of Defense] sources said it could be operational in 2021, when the ministry’s lease contract for the Thaicom satellite expires,” all other information suggests that’s almost impossible. Other dates suggested have been 2023, but there’s doubt about that too.

It sounds like typical junta obfuscation.

Update: As it usually does when it has things to hide, the junta is threatening and considering legal harassment. Khaosod reports that:

A top junta figure is mulling legal action against a transparency activist who accused the government of illegally planning to acquire an expensive satellite network to spy on its citizens.

Through a spokesman, Gen. Prajin Juntong, who serves as deputy prime minister, slammed the allegations as baseless and said he had ordered lawyers to prepare a case against Srisuwan Janya, though he did not specify what charges would be brought.

“It damaged the deputy prime minister and confused the public,” spokesman Monthol Satchukorn said.

Sounds like a sedition and computer crimes farce set of charges, again common under the dictatorship.





Updated: Military wheeling and dealing

4 06 2018

Activist Srisuwan Janya seems to enjoy walking around with a target on his back. That is not a poor taste reflection on the military’s penchant for using snipers to kill demonstrators, but to Srisuwan’s continued attacks on the military and the regime.

His latest outing is of a military satellite project. He claims it is likely to “incur up to 91.2 billion in public debt to fund the … project.” Srisuwan says “the Defence Council last week approved a proposal for the Defence Ministry to draft a 2018-2027 strategic plan on space affairs for country defence purposes in paving the way for the purchase of 112 satellites called Theia.”

The Bangkok Post states that unnamed “ministry sources” revealed that the “Defence Technology Institute (DTI) and the ministry’s space affairs and cyber centre to assess the Theia satellite project.” Further, this is “part of the Thailand Satellites Data Information Processing Centre (TSDIPC), in which Thailand will work with the United States and other countries…”. It adds that the “US Theia Group invited the Thai government to co-invest in a satellite (Theia Space) with another four or five countries, the names of which were not revealed…”.

On the Sky Dragon purchase, we looked for information on the penny company involved with that waste of funds. We did the same with this one.

There’s something called Theia Space involved with the the European Space Agency, satellites and space research, but we don’t think that’s the agency involved.

More likely is the Theia Group in the US, which has very little information that we can find. There’s a sparse profile and an SEC reporting document from 2016. The military will also be pleased to know that there’s a Technical Narrative for the Theia Satellite Network available from the FCC.

There’s also some news that seems to relate to Theia. One we saw stated that several companies had filed for approvals from the FCC in 2016-17, adding: “It’s unlikely that all of them are going to make it to market…”. One of the projects mentioned is Theia Holdings:

The proposed Theia Satellite Network (TSN) is designed as an integrated Earth observation and communications network to provide remote-sensing and communications products and services to a variety of users in the U.S. and worldwide.

The constellation would include 112 operational satellites in LEO that incorporate remote-sensing, signal-processing and communications payloads. TSN is designed to collect, process and deliver remote-sensing information products directly to end users on demand and to provide broadband communications necessary to the delivery of these products and services, including directly into machines via M2M communications.

Potential markets for Theia’s services include basic Earth and atmospheric sciences, agriculture, natural resources exploration, insurance, infrastructure protection and support of economic and physical security.

Theia doesn’t jump out as a major corporation for which there is lots of information available (but perhaps we are not looking in the right places). It is in a technology area that is in clearly in development and where it faces competition, and where the report cited above says not all proposals will get to market.

Naturally enough, the junta has attacked Srisuwan for “distortion.” We have no idea about that, but the military would get less “distortion” if it was less opaque in its wheeling and dealing. But that might threaten commissions and the painful effort of being more transparent, something all the generals find an awful idea.

Update: Khaosod now has an excellent report on this “project.”





Updated: Still watching and waiting

11 05 2018

A Timeline (from the Bangkok Post)

A couple of days ago we posted on how quiet the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) had become very, very quiet on Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury watch “investigation.”

The NACC has now been pushed by activists to state that the “probe into the luxury watches allegedly owned by Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit … is still ongoing and is not being stalled…”.

As ever, though, the NACC secretary-general Worawit Sookboon said “it is unlikely the commission will meet this month’s deadline to wrap up the case.”

So far, the NACC has met none of its self-imposed “deadlines.” Nor has the Deputy Dictator met NACC “deadlines.”

Now the NACC says the “investigation requires another two to three months…”.

So the saga goes on and on. But that’s the plan. The NACC and the Deputy Dictator figure that they can just wait for the heat to finally go and they walk away from the cover-up “investigation.”

The NACC’s Worawit said, as he did months ago, that “the speed of the probe depends on how quickly luxury watch dealers respond to NACC requests for information about the 22 watches seen worn by Gen Prawit…”.

We can only guess that the dealers have been ordered/told/threatened/encouraged not to respond.

Worawit added that “it is not complicated verifying the 22 watches’ owners via the serial numbers, it takes time repeating the same process for each watch…”.

He did respond to the activists who demanded investigations to include all witnesses, saying that “questioning of witnesses, including the children of Pattawat Suksriwong, the late close friend of Gen Prawit, is completed…”.

Presumably that has produced receipts for the purchase of each watch and the tax paid. Yeah, right.

Update: The Bangkok Post has an editorial that makes all the obvious points. It notes that the NACC’s claim for delays is not at all convincing. This is also worth repeating:

The latest delay to the probe revealed this week will come as no surprise to the public but disgraces both Gen Prawit and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which has six of its nine commissioners appointed by the current regime. This unnecessary and unconvincing delay has deepened the public’s mistrust in the agency’s integrity and independence, and in Gen Prawit’s claim.





NACC on watch

9 05 2018

It was only a couple of days ago that PPT mentioned how very quiet the National Anti-Corruption Commission had been since Gen Prawit Wongsuwan told them his luxury watch case was over. We assumed then that the NACC has done as it was ordered and there’s no case for the boss to answer.

Interestingly, a couple of activists have raised the watch case again. Akechai Hongkangwarn and Chokchai Phaiboonratchata have asked that “the NACC to summon Jiraphan and Jutiphon Suksriwong, daughters of Pattawat Suksriwong, for questioning over the luxury watch scandal.” Pattawat is the dead businessman Gen Prawit claims to have “borrowed” a score of expensive watches from.

The two activists, with considerable merit, “said that since Pattawat had died, his two daughters should clarify whether the watches in question belonged to their late father as claimed by Gen Prawit.” It seems the NACC has neglected these women, while hoping the case will just go quiet and go away.

We can’t wait to hear the NACC response.





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.