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.





The new privy council

6 12 2016

It was widely expected that the new king would put his stamp on the Privy Council. He’s done that in very quick time.

The Bangkok Post reports that the king has appointed an 11-member Privy Council.

The new members are: “Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan, the current Education Minister; Gen Paiboon Koomchaya, currently the Justice Minister; and Gen Teerachai Nakwanich, who retired as army commander-in-chief on Sept 30.”

We surmise that they will need to give up their current positions.

Those who “retired” are, including the dates they took their positions: “Tanin Kraivixien [1977], Chaovana Nasylvanta [1975], ACM Kamthon Sindhavananda [1987], Gen Pichitr Kullavanijaya [1993], Ampol Senanarong [1994], Rr Adm ML Usani Pramoj [1984], MR Thepkamol Devakula [1997] and Adm Chumpol Patchusanont [2005].”

Persons with more knowledge than us will have to read these tea leaves and explain the possible reasons for sending these men on their way.

This means the current 11 members of the Privy Council are: “Gen Surayud Chulanont, Kasem Watanachai, Palakorn Suwanarat,  Atthaniti Disatha-amnarj, Supachai Phungam, Chanchai Likitjitta, ACM Chalit Pookpasuk, Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan, Gen Teerachai Nakwanich and Gen Paiboon Koomchaya.” General Prem Tinsulanonda is president of the Privy Council.

This means six are military men, all from the post-2006 politicized forces and several of them having been actively involved in coups overthrowing elected governments.

Three are for presidents of the Supreme Court. One is a former education minister and another is Former Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Interior. Except for Prem, all have been appointed since 2001.

The king can have up to 18 members, so there’s plenty of empty chairs for him to add others. At the moment, this new Privy Council will be especially pleasing for the military junta. We can only wonder what the deal is for appointing three two serving ministers and a corrupt officer.





The lese majeste ploy II

27 10 2016

As we noted in our previous post, during the mourning period, the military junta has been hard at work burnishing its ultra-royalist political credentials chasing down those it considers disloyal.

When it comes to political exiles, its activities are largely bogus but that seems not to matter in this slithering, salivating attention-seeking. Extradition has been the mantra of some, like General Paiboon Khumchaya, who carries the moniker of “Justice” Minister.

The latest lese majeste ploy involves Police General Chakthip Chaijinda who claims that “the police were working with Interpol on legal action against the lese majeste suspects living overseas.” It is not entirely clear if he means exiles or new “suspects” who he says are guilty of having “produced content deemed in violation of Section 112 of the Criminal Code … from overseas and released it online.”

In any case, the Police General, who says he has “no idea what these lese majeste offenders are thinking…”,seems to want to extradite them back to Thailand.

At the same time, and seemingly with no consciousness that he is contradicting himself and looking both dull and silly, he also claims that he wants to send anti-monarchists in Thailand somewhere else. Not only that, he offered to pay for them to leave:

“For those who are in Thailand, if they don’t want to live here [because they’re dissatisfied with the monarchy] they can leave the country. If they don’t have enough money to buy air tickets, I’m willing to pay for them.”

Let’s be clear on what Chakthip seems to desire. He wants Interpol to hunt down and extradite exiles and perhaps other “lese majeste offenders” overseas and he also wants to send similar minded Thais overseas.

That illogical “thinking” suggests that what Chakthip really wants is some embellishment of his ultra-royalist credibility in Thailand.

Meanwhile, not to be left out in this grasping at royal aura from the dead king and (presumably) from the yet to be king, junta spokesman and lackey Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd has said that The Dictator has taken up the extradition mantra. General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “instructed state agencies to study which countries Thailand had agreements on extradition with and which countries had cooperated on such requests in the past.”

Well, we know none have ever cooperated on lese majeste extradition requests (if, indeed, any have ever been made).

The loyal Sansern then engaged in a bit a illogical banter on behalf of The Dictator, first saying that the lese majeste law was never used by the monarchy – “[t]he [royal] institution has never sued anyone for defaming the monarchy or royal family – and then contradicting this by saying that the “beloved and respectful institution … would rarely seek recourse to the courts itself…”.

It seems that the appeal of royalist grandstanding by taking advantage of the mourning period is so strong that it evokes bucket loads of loyalist junta froth and babble.





The lese majeste ploy I

27 10 2016

When the military regime declares that it is going after lese majeste suspects overseas it is a political ploy.

The latest use of this ruse is seen in a report from the Bangkok Post a few days ago. “Justice” Minister Army General Paiboon Khumchaya bellowed that “he had signed letters to the ambassadors of seven countries that 19 lese majeste suspects had fled to, asking for their cooperation in regard to extradition requests.”

General Paiboon knows that this act is nonsensical but he does it for the political resonance it has with the broad royalist constituency for the junta. He also knows that it will get him good press during the mourning period.

Still, that hardly accounts for his lie that he had had a “positive response” to letters his ministry “sent to the ambassadors of seven countries where lese majeste suspects are sheltering…”. He was rejected. It won’t happen.

The “Justice” Ministry said  “the seven countries included the United States, France, Australia, Japan and New Zealand.” Cambodia was also approached.

General Paiboon also lied when he said he remained hopeful that there would be extraditions. He knows there is no chance, with one possible exception. That is Cambodia.

Thailand’s junta may have a bit more political muscle in Cambodia on extradition, which The Phnom Penh Post says “Cambodian authorities are ‘processing’ a request from Thailand’s military government to extradite three Thai citizens for the crime of insulting the monarchy…”.

Extraditing Thais from Cambodia to Thailand on lese majeste would involve remaking Cambodian law. The extradition treaty between the two countries “outlines that an extraditable offence is one that carries a jail term under the laws of both countries. Insulting a king is not a criminal offence under Cambodia’s Penal Code…”.

So all the huff and puff is for domestic consumption, buffing the junta’s royalist credentials.





Further updated: Lese majeste after the reign

18 10 2016

It looks like there is to be no let up in the use of lese majeste. Both Matichon and Thai Rath report that “Justice” Minister Paiboon Khumchaya, who is yet another General, is looking at royalist mobs and thinking that this provides him with license to (again) seek out and prosecute persons deemed unduly critical of the king, even if they are overseas. The General seems to imply that, in addition to making representations through diplomatic channels, overseas “offenders” may be tracked by “agents.”

One of the cases he seems to refer to is in Phuket. One report, in the Phuket Gazette, refers to lese majeste charges being laid against Suthee Arammetapong. He was one of the people chased down by royalist mobs after the king’s death. Prachatai has a similar story. Yet its report states:

… Pol Maj Gen Teeraphon Thipcharoen, Commander of Phuket Police [arrived], with about 30 police officers and soldiers arrived at the scene and attempted to pacify the crowd [mob].

He told the crowd that the Facebook message does not seem to violate Article 112 directly, adding the police could make an arrest when the allegation is investigated and seems sufficiently substantiated and after the court grants an arrest warrant for the suspect.

Dissatisfied, the mob wanted lese majeste blood. The report states that “the crowd agreed to disperse after the intervention of Surathin Lien-udom, former key leader of the [anti-democratic] People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)…”. He gathered up “four people from the mob to Mueang Phuket Police Station to file a lèse majesté complaint against the accused.”

That accusation is now being investigated.

Vigilantism and state repression seem required for a nation that now views all as black and white.

Update 1: Vigilantism is swelling in Thailand. Rightist foreigners associated with the Democrat Party and the broad anti-democratic movement are calling for harassment of foreign journalists. By far the most despicable case is the beating and humiliation of a 19 year-old worker in Chonburi.

Not only was the vicious mob attack livestreamed over Facebook, but it is clear that his employer – Thai Steel Cable – first alerted the mob to the alleged lese majeste by the young man and then told the mob where to locate him. The company sacked him and the company’s HR manager stated that he “would want to beat the crap out of him…”.

A photo later circulated on social media showed Jirawat in the back of a police vehicle, but the officer in charge of the case would not discuss the case other than to say police are investigating it.

Khaosod reports that “[n]one of the vigilantes involved in these incidents is known to be under criminal investigation for any crimes.” In other words, vigilantism is promoted and condoned, including by Minister Paiboon.

Update 2: The Nation reports on these matters. One notable paragraph states:

Overseas commentators are also being monitored. Minister in the PM’s Office Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said the government had noted six social media users who live abroad making inappropriate comments online. The government would use intelligence and security agencies to deal with them, said Suwaphan, who is also a secretary to the command centre monitoring the situation.





With a major update: Anti-democrats in a flap

16 05 2016

As expected, following US Ambassador Glyn Davies responded to reporters questions that got the military junta’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in an angry spin late last week, the response of the increasingly anti-American rightist royalists and other anti-democrats was expected.

Sure enough, according to Prachatai, they have gone bonkers, raging against the US Ambassador rolling out the usual shrill nationalist messages calling for Davies to be expelled.

This huffing, puffing and manure-rolling is apparently because the Ambassador reiterated that the State Department had expressed concern about the junta’s terrible human rights record and its manufacturing a lese majeste case against Patnaree Chankij.

Arthit Ourairat declared “Davies’s action … despicable and lacked diplomatic manner. He suggested that Thai government should send him back to the US in order to protect Thai monarchy’s dignity…”. We are not sure how the monarchy’s dignity was harmed, but that matters little to ideologues like Arthit. He is a former Parliament Speaker, a PAD funder who regularly appeared on the anti-democrat stage, as well as being president and owner of Rangsit University, where he funds and maintains a den of anti-democrats.

Like the dopey royalist rant by Justice Minister General Paiboon Khumchaya, Arthit babbles about Thailand being “a country with an older and greater culture than the US, [that] should be able to teach the US that by sending such a bad manner person to be an Ambassador is an insult to our country.” He wants Davies made persona non grata and expelled.

Taking up the royalist-nationalist cudgel was Former deputy spokesperson of Democrat Party Mallika Boonmeetrakool, who has a history of histrionic and neo-Fascist outrages. She” posted an image of Davies on her Facebook with a message that read ‘Get Out’.” The post has been widely shared among yellow shirts.

PAD and PDRC ideologue Chirmsak Pinthong declared that “Davies would only worsen US-Thailand relation[s].” He also took up the latest nationalist fashion of declaring Thailand socially and culturally unique, requiring the lese majeste law.

How such a draconian law is civilized is not expressed. But, then, that’s not the point when racists and nationalists flap their deformed right wings.

Update: According to the Bangkok Post, the military junta is also in a flap. Uncoordinated, contradictory and concocting things, the junta seems driven by the rightist rage and by yellow-shirted social media.

As usual, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is erratic, idiosyncratic and reflects his incapacity to understand much outside his hierarchical world of military posterior polishing. As a dedicated yellow-shirt and social media follower, he demands: “Is Thailand a US colony?”

Again revealing his insular perspective, Prayuth bleats: “The ambassador likely based his comments on general US democratic principles and information he gleaned from media reports…”. We imagine that he says similar things about Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Spain and the UK, all of which expresed concerns about the junta and its repression at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

While not a complete record of the event, a video of the Davies and Don meeting with the press is here:





Deadly and dangerous clowns

12 05 2016

Despite an inglorious day before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, where the junta was shown to be tyrannical, rancid and hopelessly out of its depth, this seems to count for nothing in a regime composed of very dangerous clowns.Nasty clown

We do not intend to diminish the gravity of the situation facing Thailand under the junta by the use of the word “clown,” but this junta is composed of buffoons who only understand hierarchy, violence and repression.

The clownish aspects are demonstrated in a Prachatai story. Justice Minister General Paiboon Khumchaya has lapped up some royalist kool-aid sufficient to declare that “other countries” can’t understand Thailand’s lese majeste law because they lack Thailand’s level of “civilization, sensitivity, and gentleness.”

Yes, he’s lost his marbles, and to make that absolutely clear, the royalist maniac blurted out that “by having the King, Thailand was unique and civilized. That makes Article 112 or the lèse majesté law necessary…”. More remarkably, Paiboon told the media to report his “explanation.”

Meanwhile, the junta continued its witch hunts for political opponents, real or imagined.

In Pitsanulok, up to nine persons were detained by the military for joining a “field trip to investigate corruption allegations over a canal dredging project by the War Veterans Organisation.” The military accuses the Puea Thai Party of being involved. The alleged corruption involves the Ministry of Defense.

In Bangkok, the last two of the Facebook 8 have been denied bail by the military court. They are Harit Mahaton and Natthika Worathaiwich. At the same time, one of their supporters, Burin Intin, has been detained on lese majeste charges. The military court denied bail “citing flight risk, the possibility that they might attempt to distort evidence and the seriousness of the offence.” That is standard practice by the courts. It is also a gross breach of their rights under the law. The defendants allege that the military and police used illegal measures to obtain “evidence.”

In another case of the junta breaking the law, “military and police have attempted to break into the house of a Pheu Thai Party politician to detain him after he criticized the junta leader.” It is reported that early today soldiers and police “surrounded the house of Worachai Hema, a former Member of Parliament (MP) of the Pheu Thai Party from Samut Prakan Province, and attempted to break into the house.” They allegedly “pulled out the telephone line to the house and ordered Worachai’s daughter-in-law to remove a CCTV camera from the house.” Presumably they don’t want any evidence surfacing of their illegal acts. The thugs apparently had no warrant nor permission to enter the compound. The Bangkok Post reports that 50 soldiers and police were involved and Worachai states that “soldiers broke into his bedroom and ransacked it.”

Another raid was carried out against a former Puea Thai deuty minister, Pracha Prasopdee. A later report states that 12 homes were searched and this thuggish fishing trip yeilded “two BB guns, an ID card for a security guard of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), four CDs on UDD rallies, three communication radios, a notebook computer of Noppakao Kongsuwan, one of the eight Facebook users suspected of violating the Computer Crime Act, and two mobile phones” along with “11 firearms of various types, handguns and rifles, all of them properly registered but taken for examination, and a communication radio.” The military thugs claim that these raids are part of their crackdown on dark influences. Readers will recall predictions of this “crackdown” being politically motivated.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy monk Phraiwan Wannabut revealed that the military have visited him at his temple more than five times asking him to “stop all political activities, including writing articles and Facebook posts…”. This is intimidation of a religious figure, a new low for the military’s thugs.

It is only going to get worse.





Updated: Panama papers II

6 04 2016

We continue to look for data on Thailand in the Panama Papers. So far we aren’t having too much luck. We were, however, reminded of an earlier report of some 600 Thais stashing loot overseas.

That 2013 report, also from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, included Pojaman Shinawatra, Nalinee Taveesin, Bhanapot Damapong, members of the Chirathivat family, Yuenyong Opakul, and note this very carefully, the Vongkusolkit family and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian.

The latter was described as “the former deputy permanent secretary of defense, who is listed as one of many shareholders in the British Virgin Islands company Vnet Capital International Co., Ltd in 1998” with 2006 coup connections and who is described in a Wikileaks cable as an acolyte of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda.

On the new release of leaks from Mossack Fonseca, the main new report we have seen was in the Bangkok Post. It states that the “Office of the Auditor-General has weighed in on the so-called Panama Papers, asking the Revenue Department to look into tax payment records of Thai nationals named in a list of people allegedly using a Panama-based law firm for offshore holdings.”moneybags 1

Yet, as might be expected in a country that is protective of its wealthy elites and ruled by a military junta, a cover-up seems likely, unless the junta can come across the names of those it sees as political opponents. At the moment, “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and the business community are urging the public not to rush to conclusions and let regulators verify the information first.”

“Verify” sounds like “cover-up” or “manipulate.”

Like the rich everywhere, the first bleat refers to law rather than ethics: “… using offshore company structures is a normal and legal business practice.” Not paying tax is legal they say. In Thailand, tax, like so many other things, is malleable and politicized.

Recall that Thaksin Shinawatra’s sale of the Shin Corp involved tax havens. While he didn’t have to pay tax on the transfers in Thailand, there was an outcry over this, and the opposition to him was strengthened. Now, it seems, things are to be reversed. So much for Buddhist ethics and the “good” of “The Good People.”

The report says there are “almost 400 Thais among 780 individuals who used Thailand as a residence and 50 companies were named on the lists.” While it is stated that “[p]rominent names include well-known business people, politicians, a former military officer and celebrities…”, only a few names are named.

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) observes, “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts and it does not intend to suggest or imply that those named in the leak have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

General Paiboon said “… the leak is not verified information. But once it’s verified, no one can dodge an investigation. So let Amlo [Anti-Money Laundering Office] work on this first…”.

Our question is: Where are Thailand’s journalists who should be working on this? In most other countries, journalists are pouring out stories.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas says “he has seen the list and had proceeded to ask the tax authority to review tax records to detect any possible wrongdoing.” He names no names.

Pisit also suggested that the “Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) can facilitate the probe by acting as a coordinator as it is the hub of 11 anti-corruption agencies.” Some of this group and Pisit were recently part of another cover-up, finding no corruption in the military’s Rajabhakti Park, while making “commissions” acceptable.

Now to some of the names and what they say.

Isara

Isara

One name in the Panama Papers is Isara Vongkusolkit, who is chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. His response was to say that “he did not know and had noting to do with Mossack Fonseca. He was wondering how his name was mentioned on the lists.” Wondering? Really? He doesn’t remember the 2013 report?

He did admit that offshore banking and companies were necessary to avoid taxation in Thailand. He then went on to blame government for tax avoidance because it has had “high” tax rates!

The Vongkusolkit family maintains a tight set of relationships. One Chanin Vongkusolkit is a member of the Council of the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption (CAC), which is:

an initiative by the Thai private sector to take parts in tackling corruption problem via collective action. The CAC aims to bring effective anti-corruption policy and mechanism into implementation by companies in order to create an ecosystem of clean business community.

Forbes says this of Isara and family:

To offset volatility in sugar prices, Isara Vongkusolkit’s privately held Mitr Phol Sugar, Thailand’s largest sugar producer, is expanding its energy business, which generates 400 megawatts of electricity, half for its own consumption. The company, which recently faced allegations of human rights abuses and illegal land- grabbing in Cambodia, said it was in discussions with the Cambodian government about its concessions. Brother Chanin stepped down as CEO of family’s Banpu, the country’s biggest coal miner, after running it for more than 3 decades.

Chanin remains on the Banpu Board of Directors. Others from the family on the Board are Buntoeng and Verajet Vongkusolkit. Australia’s controversial Centennial Coal Centennial is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banpu.

Banpong

Banpong

The point seems to be that Isara and his family are fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons and like their ilk everywhere, seek to “minimize” tax while claiming to engage in ethical business behavior, if that is not an oxymoron.

Another listed is “Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Capital and a member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission, posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was taken aback that his name was on the list.” Like Isara, he claims to not know Mossack Fonseca: “I have just learned of the company today and I never contacted or did any business with Mossack Fonseca…”.

Schultz

Schultz

We are reminded of Sgt. Schultz, again and again. How many times can “I know nothing” be used?

Patra Capital is a “certified” company at the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption and Phatra Capital promulgates a Code of Ethics for Directors, Officers and Employees. In part, it states:

By adhering to exemplary standards and conducting our business with excellence and integrity, we enhance our reputation and cultivate the growth of our business. All of us must take personal responsibility for conducting ourselves in a way that reflects positively on the Capital Market Business Group and with the letter and spirit of the Guidelines for Business Conduct.

Like many of Thailand’s tycoons, Banpong has royal links, his with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. He is also a member of the junta-created Superboard, which is said to be “overseeing all state enterprises has the stated aim of getting them all moving in the same direction towards strength and efficiency.” A Superboard of bankers, coal miners and more means endless conflicts of interest.

Both the Vongkusolkit and Pongpanich families are represented on the Board of Trustees of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute, which has often commented on corruption and ethics in Thailand’s politics.

Bannawit

Bannawit

The last Sgt. Schultz excuse came from Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. The “former deputy defence permanent secretary, whose name is also on the lists, said this came as a surprise to him…. According to the retired officer he never conducted any business transactions overseas or given permission to anyone to use his name to set up offshore accounts.”

Bannawit has appeared previously at PPT as one of “Dad’s Army,” which was an elite forerunner to the more popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee in trying to bring down the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was a member of several other yellow-shirted and royalist groups that sought to create conflict with the Yingluck government. Earlier, he was previously a member of the assembly appointed by the junta in 2006 and then caused controversy when deputy defense minister. He was not averse to very odd and racist claims when opposing red shirts.

Bannawit also seems to have conveniently forgotten the 2013 leaks from the British Virgin Islands. Or perhaps the rich and powerful expect the junta to enforce collective amnesia on the country.

Update: Khaosod has cast doubt on the Bangkok Post story, above, saying that the newspaper (and many others) confused the 2013 leak with the Panama Papers. INterestingly, whether its 2013 or now, nothing in our post would seem in need of change.





With a major update: Clean as a whistle

25 03 2016

The Corruption Park scandal is said to be officially over. It wasn’t necessarily always so simple. At the beginning of the affair, it was caught up in claims over corruption by some close to the palace or parts of it. Even the person at the center of investigations, former Army boss and junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr, admitted that “commissions” had been paid and then “repaid.”

Their were also conflicts within the junta and the military as Udomdej was “targeted.” Importantly, though, Udomdej was strongly supported by senior junta mover and shaker General Prawit Wongsuwan, who made it clear that he wanted his loyal underling cleared.

Khaosod reports that yet another junta-commanded corruption “investigation” has found “[n]o trace of corruption or malfeasance … in the construction of a royal monument … as widely alleged in media reports, a junta-appointed committee declared…”.

Corruption

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas was precise: ““There was no violation of bureaucratic procedure” following an inspection of “more than 95 percent” of all documents available.

Well, clear about the limited parameters of the “investigation.”

Many of the allegations revolved around “commissions” paid to Watcharapong Radomsittipat or Sian U, and amulet dealer. However, that dealer had already been “cleared” by the Office of the Auditor-General of “allegations he demanded kickbacks from foundries hired to cast the statues of seven Thai kings at Rajabhakti Park…”. That was more than a month ago.

At the time, the trader “admitted he received a total of 20 million baht from the foundries, but the money was paid for his role as their adviser, coordinator, work supervisor and problem solver…”. According to Auditor-General Pisit, these were “management fees,” not “kickbacks…”.

According to the OAG, the trader “decided” – when? under what pressure? – to “return the money to the foundries because he preferred to help build the park as a volunteer.” Yeah, right…. He claimed “the foundries did not want the money back, so Sian U donated it to the Rajabhakti Park project.” Yeah, right….

Sounds more like a cover up to us.

This “investigation” of the trader was carried over into the broader “investigation” with the same story claimed by the Auditor-General.

This rather dubious “investigation” was sufficient, however, for General Prawit. The Bangkok Post reports that Prawit declared: “It has ended…”. He said Army commander Theerachai Nakawanich, who “was reported to have pushed the issue into the spotlight and wanted an investigation into the project” if it was “ended.” He replied it was ended.

The boss hopes that’s the case. The military is now going to go ahead and spend even more money on Corruption Park.

Update 1: A reader points out our failure to note that at least two senior military officers, linked to Udomdej, fled Thailand over the the murky events surrounding the Corruption Park scandal and Bike for Mom and Bike for Dad events. With the junta in place, truth on this case will be mediated by self-interest.

Update 2: It is interesting to note that the Bangkok Post has an editorial that criticizes the decision that all is “squeaky clean.” It refers to a “perilous” and “dangerous precedent.”

It states that the “CNAC, chaired by Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya, comprises all major state corruption busters including the PACC, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG). Its approval should have restored the tainted park to the glory it deserves.” Yes, we know, the last statement is the required royal ridiculousness.

The editorial continues:

Unfortunately, the coalition of public graft-busting organisations let the public down when it resorted to euphemism and round-about explanations instead of tackling the accusation squarely and straightforwardly.

In short, the the CNAC found out five foundries paid about 20 million baht to the amulet trader identified as Sian U for “recommending” the jobs of casting oversized statues of past monarchs at Rajabhakti Park to them. The amount is also considered remuneration for advice that Sian U gave to the foundries during the casting process, according to the CNAC.

For most people, a payment given to people who recommend jobs or serve as a sales facilitator is called a commission.

The CNAC, however, seemed to go out of its way to gloss over the dubious practice in its Wednesday announcement.

The coalition of graftbusters said the money was paid between private parties. It reasoned the rate was in line with market prices, and that the amulet trader had enough expertise to serve as a consultant to the foundries.

These explanations are not relevant to the central question regarding the kickbacks scandal.

… What gave the amulet trader the authority to “recommend” jobs in the state project to private businesses? Why was he allowed to make money as a go-between when the process of finding contractors to cast the park’s statues should have been carried out in an open and fair manner in compliance with state procurement practices? What connections did he enjoy with the army that allowed him to claim he could “recommend” its jobs to private business?

More importantly, the CNAC acknowledged that the Sian U was later told by the army not to keep the money so he donated it back to the Rajabhakti Park fund. If the money was a clean, aboveboard business transaction, why did the army have to tell the amulet trader to “donate” it?

Sadly, the CNAC did not appear to pay attention to any of these crucial questions as it explained away the scandal with irrelevant facts. Worse, by suggesting that it is acceptable for people to charge money by recommending jobs in state projects to private businesses, the graftbusters are opening up vast new areas for fraud and deceit.





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….