Not cleaned

22 12 2014

While Prince Vajiralongkorn has been busy cleaning up – whether for personal reasons or for succession and perhaps both – it is reported at the Bangkok Post that one of his previous political allies has also been doing quite nicely.

Way back in 2009, PPT posted on some seemingly divided palace politics. That post linked to an Asia Times Online article by Shawn Crispin about Thaksin Shinawatra and the prince. Crispin stated that Thaksin had lost touch with Vajiralongkorn, “reaffirming the notion that neither is the monarchy a static institution with its relationships.” However, Crispin’s unnamed sources claimed that Thaksin “had on several occasions after returning from exile in 2008 met with Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok via his trusted associate, Sino Thai Engineering and Construction Company chairman Anutin Charnvirakul.”

Anutin’s father is Chavarat Charnvirakul, close to Newin Chidchob and a force in the military-backed Abhisit Vejjajiva government. A Wikileaks cable states:

A relatively new close associate and princely financier is banned former Thai Rak Thai politician Anutin Charnvirakul, son of Interior Minister/Phumjai Thai Chair Charavat, and executive of the Sino-Thai construction conglomerate.

This background is one reason why PPT found the Bangkok Post story on Anutin a few days ago especially interesting, and because we note that Anutin is quite a collector of antiques. We remain puzzled by the huge hoarding of antiques attributed to deposed princess Srirasmi’s relatives, many of who were close to the prince for several years.

According to the Post, Anutin still runs the Bhum Jai Thai Party after taking over the leadership from his father, and the party could become significant if the military again wants to use it in any forthcoming election, as it did in 2011, although with spectacularly little success.

Anutin is reportedly responsible for all of the party’s activities “such as looking after the welfare of party members [paying unofficial wages], and representing the party in expressing its stance on public affairs, particularly the ongoing national reform.”

We were also interested to note that Anutin’s Sino Thai Engineering “has been awarded major construction contracts, including building some electric rail lines and the new parliament building.”

Relationships matter in Thailand. They can also go spectacularly wrong.

In for the long haul II

13 11 2014

Some time ago, PPT posted on the military dictatorship being in position for the long haul. Then we were observing that despite claims about “democracy” and an “election” in about 12-15 months, the military dictatorship was likely to maintain control for a very long time.

Wassana Nanuam a senior reporter at the Bangkok Post now seems to agree with us, setting out the path to deep military involvement in Thailand’s post-junta regime.

She focuses on “speculation is growing over a plan by the men in green to form a new political party, or perhaps a nominee party with military backing.”

Previous military regimes that decided not to rule more directly tried this. Some past efforts have failed. In the post 2006 period, the military backed Newin Chidchob’s Bhum Jai Thai Party, and it did poorly in the 2011 election. Before that, when General Suchinda Kraprayoon tried a military party, it resulted in the 1992 rebellion.

She details moves that might politically position the military for the long term. The important considerations seems to be the observation that “[s]ome people in the military believe the Democrat Party will never win the next election, so the military might have to step in, or at least throw its support behind a party to challenge Pheu Thai.”

As a footnote, Wassana’s discussion of the dealings between General Prawit Wongsuwan and Thaksin Shinawatra put a different spin on this part of the story, worth considering.

In terms of transition beyond the military dictatorship, 12 years has often been mentioned as the period required to get back to full electoral democracy. It was 12 years from the coup in 1976 until Prem Tinsulanonda finally stepped aside in 1988.

Rich, rich, rich II

6 07 2013

PPT recently posted on the new Forbes list of the filthy rich. In a related story, Forbes discusses the rises and falls on this list of the fabulously wealthy. We only want to comment on two of these.

Global HouseAmong the new names on the list, the richest was Witoon Suriyawanakul, worth $700 million. Somewhat surprisingly, Witoon’s Siam Global House is based tiny Roi Et in the Northeast. Global House is a building supplies retailer, a bit like Lowes or Home Depot in the U.S. Witoon’s stores are concentrated in the Northeast, the country’s poorest region. Perhaps his rapid rise is something to do with the recent posts we have had on inequality and politically-generated growth in the Northeast (see here and here).  Forbes has a brief story about Witoon.

The second observation is about Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Who?

Readers may not recognise this name. However, they will recognise his business. Vichai’s near-monopoly, state-allocated, duty-free airport stores under the King Power name is well known. King Power has made him very, very rich. And his wealth has shot higher as tourists have streamed into Thailand. Apparently 52 million in Bangkok’s international airport alone in 2012! Clearly the near-monopoly position is a license to print money.King Power

The name King Power always seems incongruous for lese majeste bizarre Thailand.

Then Forbes tells us who Vichai was:

Previously listed under Raksriaksorn, Vichai switched his last name when the monarchy bestowed upon him the honorific Srivaddhanaprabha, which means “light of progressive glory.” An apt description given his past year….

The best available account of King Power and its economic and political power is by Chang Noi.

Readers might recall that PPT posted on this name change earlier this year. Back then we commented that royal recognition is a reward, and we wondered if this reward was political, for Vichai has been a political supporter of Newin Chidchob who was so critical to the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and in opposing red shirts while holding the royal banner high. We did also note that Vichai is credited with having “plagiarized” the (now disgraced) Lance Armstrong and his plastic bracelets in Thailand and made them “Long live the king” bracelets and raised a fortune that he apparently pushed over to the palace. As we observed then, for the Chinese business class in the 1920s, getting a royal family name was a sign of inclusion and acceptance. Today, it must be a fitting reward for a very wealthy supporter of the wealthiest.

Rewarding royalists

3 02 2013

PPT spends quite a lot of time reading stuff about the monarchy from the syrupy and posterior polishing dross that come out daily to the most radical republican material. In this context, it was a bit of a shock when we came across something completely new to us. Or maybe we’ve just not read carefully enough, and readers can tell us.

At something called the Moodie Report, there is a report that made PPT think it was 1922:

His Majesty King Bhumibol of Thailand has bestowed the family name ‘Srivaddhanaprabha’ on Vichai Raksriaksorn (former surname), Group Chairman of King Power Group of Companies in Thailand and owner of UK’s Leicester City Football Club. The auspicious family name granted by His Majesty was published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette.

The report goes on to explain that:

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red (!!)

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red (!!)

In Thailand, royally granted family names have been bestowed particularly on the Monarch’s retainers since the reign of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, who ruled from 1910 – 1925). It is a tradition of His Majesty to grant surnames to members of the royal family, government officers, and private citizens who have contributed significantly to the good of the country.

PPT knew that when family names were introduced in the 1920s that the king did hand some out to flunkies and retainers. What we didn’t know was that this has been revived.

It is rather fitting that this announcement involves one of the business families that has been more slithery than most in seeking royal recognition. Vichai, one of Thailand’s richest, is thus ecstatic to receive this recognition after 24 years building, appropriately enough, King Power:

“It is our family’s greatest honour to receive this royally granted surname…. The name ‘Srivaddhanaprabha’ conveys positive attributes to the industry and brings prosperity to our family. We have now officially changed our surname since it was published in the Royal Gazette in late 2012….

Royal recognition is usually a reward. We wonder if the reward is political, for in addition to all the polo nonsense for royals and their hangers-on, Vichai has been a political supporter of Newin Chidchob who was so critical to the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and in opposing red shirts while holding the royal banner high.

Perhaps more significantly, Vichai is credited with having “plagiarized” the (now disgraced) Lance Armstrong and his plastic bracelets in Thailand and made them “Long live the king” bracelets and raised a fortune that he handed over to the palace.

For the Chinese business class in the 1920s, getting a royal family name was a sign of inclusion and acceptance. Today, it must be a fitting reward for a wealthy supporter of the wealthiest.

Updated: Sex, football and Newin

22 04 2012

Readers may have wondered what happened to Newin Chidchob after his Bhum Jai Thai Party did so poorly in the 2011 election. Even if readers didn’t wonder and dread the day – not too far off – when Thailand’s vote-buyer-in-chief is off suspension, PPT has some updates, and they all relate to sex and football.

Over the past week, there has been a flurry of news and blog posts damning politicians for semi-naked (lower half ) photos appearing on the parliamentary video screens inside the chamber and a Democrat Party politician for looking at erotic photos while attending a session of the parliament.

None of that seems to bother the provincial politician in Newin. Back in March it was revealed that he was about to bring famouse Japanese porn stars to his Buriram for Songkhran celebrations. There wasn’t much outrage expressed, even when Newin said that “the Japanese performers would not be any naughtier than local dancers…”. No outrage so he brought them in.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Tourism Authority of Thailand said the new year holiday generated about “4.5 billion baht of tourism revenue in 13 provinces” where it sponsored events. The report adds that the TAT said the celebration had been “very lively.”

A Bangkok Post photo

TAT didn’t sponsor the events in Buriram – that was left to the local boss – but it was particularly “lively” there.

In Buri Ram, XXX marked the spot, as seen in the photos, with the second depicting one of the most famous of Japanese performers in adult movies.

Why would Newin be up to these tricks, no pun intended? Certainly, he wants as much economic activity in Buriram as possible, and for him, porn stars and football seem to go together. It also further builds his nak leng reputation. Football and porn seem to be positioned as a kind of political alternative to the “populism” of the major political parties.

A Bangkok Post photo

In football, Newin has invested a fortune in his Buriram team, which has rocketed to the top of the Thai Premier League. That league has long been a corrupt organization, often under the wing of influential military men. But Newin has shaken it up.

In recent weeks, Newin has reportedly begun asking questions about “missing money” at the TPL. Remarkably, this leads The Nation to state: “the league needs a man like Newin, the politician-turned-football club owner who took the avatar of a whistleblower, to clean up and improve the league.”

The idea that Newin could clean up anything is remarkable. That he could clean up football suggests it’s pretty deeply flawed. But perhaps the important lesson is for Thaksin Shinawatra: if Newin can be rehabilitated time and again, Thaksin’s got to be thinking that his chances are also pretty good.

Enjoy this Sunday fun.

Updated: More Sunday fun as the Democrat Party defend their man of porn.

Further updated: True, CP and the Abhisit government

30 03 2012

When the Democrat Party was the Army’s surrogate ruling political party it often alleged that business deals done by Thaksin Shinawatra and his various governments wreaked of cronyism. There was certainly some of that.

But of course, so does the Democrat Party smell on these things. Worse, it had an enormous credibility problem in its arranged marriage of coalition parties with yet another Army crony party,  Bhum Jai Thai. That party managed a range of crony relationships while in government. In order to stay in power, the Democrat Party was complicit in a range of cosy deals.

One that has recently come to light is reported at the Bangkok Post. In this report, Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap has intimated that:

True Corp’s 3G network deal with state-owned CAT Telecom has been found to have been tainted with irregularities which could result in the 6 billion baht agreement being scrapped….

The True-CAT network deal was signed during the Abhisit [Vejjajiva] administration, and through True’s purchase of  Hong Kong company Hutchison’s (Hutch) operations in Thailand, gave True the right to use the Hutch network and to aggressively market 3G wireless while “its major competitors _ Advanced Info Service (AIS) and Total Access Communication (Dtac) _ are still awaiting a decision on whether there will be a 3G licence auction this year.”

The ICT made “five points in its investigation of the True-CAT contract that raised questions about the legality and legitimacy of the deal” that were listed by Anudith:

First, the “panel found there had been an indirect political instruction on April 7, 2010” when former ICT minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee under Abhisit “for CAT to buy Hutch’s network in 25 provinces in the Central region from Hutch. Under a later ICT minister for the Abhisit government, Juti Krairiksh, the CAT-Hutch deal collapsed. “The collapse of the CAT-Hutch deal enabled True and CAT to enter quickly into a deal under a new business model drawn up by True and the state firm.” The contracts were “rapidly signed” on 26 January 2011.

Second, “CAT had bypassed the cabinet and the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) in terminating the CDMA mobile service in 25 central provinces with Hutch and its affiliate to enter into the new deal with True.”

Third, “CAT had violated the ICT Ministry’s work procedures in going ahead with the deal with True.”

Fourth, CAT didn’t consult the NESDB and the Council of State as required following “the go-ahead for its request to enter into a business deal with True on Dec 28, 2010.”

Fifth, CAT “asked the ICT to scrap the state enterprise’s original CDMA investment plan, and it switched to a new rental equipment agreement with True worth 12 billion baht.” It is stated that “CAT had no authority to enter into the new agreement. It could also be a violation of the 1992 Public-Private Joint Venture Act, which requires scrutiny of any public-private venture worth more than 1 billion baht.”

Not unexpectedly, True has “denied any wrongdoing.” The company’s vice-chairman Athueck Asvanund, said “the ICT report did not identify any specific points in the contract that violated the law.” he added: “The issues raised are political…”.

While PPT knows little about all the technical material, since the True representative raises “politics,” it is probably worth looking at this a little more.  At True’s website, the company describes itself in this manner:

Backed by Asia’s largest agro-conglomerate, the Charoen Pokphand Group (“CP”), with a shareholding of 30.02% as of December 2007, True has expanded its business from being a fixed-line provider to a total communications solutions provider, offering consumers, small and medium enterprises, and corporations a full range of voice, video and data services in solutions customized to meet their needs.  We are Thailand’s largest provider of Internet, consumer broadband Internet and pay-TV services, as well as the largest fixed-line service provider in the BMA, a leading online game provider and the number three mobile phone operator in Thailand.

True’s board, apart from being dominated by the Chearavanont family and a swathe of directors with long links to CP, includes some significant family names: Vejjajiva, Tulanonda and Srisa-an.

The Vejjajiva link is interesting, especially as Vitthaya Vejjajiva has a link to the Bangkok Post and projects like this one that brings together major royalist groups:

The project is advised by Visanu Krue-ngam (chairman), Borwornsak Uwanno, Tongthong Chandrangsu and Vitthaya Vejjajiva. It is sponsored by Bangkok Bank, the Central Group, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Jim Thompson, PTT, the Crown Property Bureau, Ch Karnchang Plc, Bangkok Expressway Plc and Thai Tap Water Plc.

True is part of the sprawling, patriarchal giant of a conglomerate known as CP, which at its website states it has:

businesses and affiliates operating within the agribusiness, retail and telecommunications markets, we currently employ over 250,000 people whom conduct our investments, operations and trading at factories and offices worldwide. Our sales at the end of 2010 were USD30 billion.

CP has three companies listed at the Stock Exchange of Thailand: True, Charoen Pokphand Foods and CP ALL. Directors at the latter two companies add to the significant names: Asa Sarasin is probably the most notable, as the king’s Principal Private Secretary, and mentioned in several Wikileaks cables around the time of the 2006 coup. Another is Police General Kowit Wattana, a Puea Thai big shot associated with the royalist Village Scout movement, who stepped down from CP when he became Deputy Prime Minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

The point is that CP is very well connected. Most of its links, Kowit not withstanding, are with the royal establishment. In line with this, one website notes this for Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, saying he:

… has served as a director and advisor for numerous large Thai companies. In early 2007, he resigned as chief adviser of the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group in order to distance himself from a junta-led corruption investigation. The investigation concerned alleged bid rigging in a para rubber saplings supply contract granted during the Thaksin government when Prem had still held his position in the Group.

The resignation refers to the case – eventually dismissed – that involved Thaksin Shinawatra minister Newin Chidchob, who had flipped his support to the Democrat Party in 2008.

In this political context, was the deal done by the Abhisit government an example of cronyism?

Update 1: A regular reader has sent us two links that seem highly relevant for this post- see here and here. That the king receives Dhanin Chearavanont and other CP executives who are handing over money to be used at the royal pleasure is significant the task of gathering the money is usually assigned to other members of the family. The recognition that Dhanin deserves an audience with the king is exceptional and carries great meaning. The royal news at ASTV is also worth watching as it is something of a record at almost 37 minutes and after the king, features the women of the court on royal travel and others doing their local duties.

In addition, that reader points out another potential link to our post in the recent Democrat Party attacks on Minister Anudith, seeking to have him investigated for “unusual wealth.” Is this a pre-emptive strike against the minister?

Update 2: Another regular reader points out that in listing the Vejjajiva connection with CP, we should have pointed out that Abhisit’s father, Athasit, is a board member at CP Foods (see link above).

Updated: Newin, Japanese porn and Buriram politics

10 03 2012

Some time ago, PPT took to posting funny, odd or quirky posts related to politics on weekends. We haven’t done that for some time, but can’t resist it today.

The Wall Street Journal carries a rather odd story about Buriram’s political chameleon and champion vote buyer-cum-royalist-cum-football promoter Newin Chidchob. First some background and serious stuff.

Newin and Abhisit with their kit on

Newin is the politician who left the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra fold to have his allied politicians join the Army-brokered deal to hoist the Democrat Party to government and Abhisit Vejjajiva to the premiership in December 2008.

His supporters formed the Bhum Jai Thai Party that grabbed important ministerial posts under Abhisit and milked them for political, personal and financial gain. Newin’s blue shirts also played a significant role in instigating the initial violence that led to the red shirt’s Songkhran uprising. Newin also pioneered the contemporary mobilization of ultra-royalists through fostering a campaign that painted the crown as under threat.

Newin, whose 5-year political ban is coming to an end in May, has been concentrating his recent efforts on consolidating his control in his home province of Buriram after cracks appeared in the 2011 election. His promotion of football has been a big part of this effort.

Like many old-style and wealthy provincial politicians Newin has a thuggish nak leng/gangster chao phor character. Often arrogant, men of this ilk often do things that raise eyebrows and draw criticism.

Now to Newin’s latest “coup.” The WSJ claims that he “plans to import a team of Japanese adult video [porn] stars to liven up the Thai New Year celebrations in his hometown of Buriram.” He appears to believe that “having stars from Japan’s pornography industry dance and sing at Buriram’s celebrations” would be good for tourism.

Newin told “local television this week, … [that] the Japanese performers would not be any naughtier than local dancers…”. Newin said that celebrations of Songkhran were already raunchy in Thailand, so why not add the foreign porn stars. We doubt Newin will be getting naked in public.

It is one of those “huh?/”really?” stories from provincial Thailand that brings a chuckle but incredulity as well. As the report points out, it isn’t “clear why Mr. Newin is stirring up what he surely knows to be a hornet’s nest. He couldn’t immediately be reached for further comment.” The WSJ speculates on tourism and politics and embarrassing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra while she is in Japan, as well as simply getting attention.

The WSJ reckons this plan will cause Newin political damage. Somehow we doubt it. Newin wants crowds, and this wacky idea will do that for him.

Update: An eagle-eyed reader has pointed out that we missed an important connection for Newin, and not nearly so wacky as the Japanese porno link. This most serious link was reported a few days ago in Prachatai, referring to one of the thuggish twins Supot and Supat Silarat who were kind of jailed for bashing Nitirat activist Worachet Pakeerut.

Matichon reported on 6 March that, according to Somsak Puapan, Thanyaburi District Chief, in Nov 2010 Suphot registered a semi-automatic .45 pistol, which was distributed in a government officials’ welfare programme, using an identification card as a volunteer ranger attached to Ranger Taskforce 26 in Buriram province, issued by a colonel in May 2008 which expired in May 2010.

Suphat also used a similar identification card to register two semi-automatic 9mm pistols, a Beretta and an NZU 707 Glock, the latter distributed to officials of the Department of Provincial Administration.

Readers may recall that Newin has long mobilized “volunteer rangers” and some of these were said by some to be the core of the blue shirts. The idea that the twins could be Newin’s hired or “volunteer” thugs is highly likely.