Wealth and impunity

30 09 2019

Fugitives from justice were mentioned by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in his inept talk at the Asia Society. He only means Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. But there’s also the long story of billionaire fugitive Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya that The Dictator ignores.

In a story for The Walrus, Martha Mendoza recalls how the rich get away with murder.

It was back in early September 2012, when playboy Vorayuth “roared his Ferrari down Sukhumvit Road” and “slammed into motorcycle cop Sergeant Major Wichean Glanprasert, dragging the officer, along with his tangled bike, down the block.” Vorayuth fled the scene and hid in a family compound. His family have accumulated a wealth of more than$13 billion through their Red Bull enterprises and by hoovering up all kinds of other investments that almost magically fall into the copious laps of the tycoons in Bangkok.

Party time for Boss (clipped from The Daily Mail)

Police followed a trail to the family mansion but were initially denied entry. The family tried to have a chauffeur take the blame, “but Boss later admitted to being the one behind the wheel.” He turned himself in, was granted bail and fled the scene again. So far none of the court cases have gone anywhere as Vorayuth is “unavailable.” The police, government and the family’s friends seem unconcerned. No one is held responsible for the death. Boss lives the high life with impunity.

Having set the scene, we just cut-and-paste from Mendoza’s excellent story:

… Within weeks of the incident, Boss was back to enjoying his family’s jet-set lifestyle: he flew around the world on private Red Bull jets, cheered the company’s Formula One racing team from Red Bull’s VIP seats, and kept a shiny black Porsche Carrera in London with custom licence plates—B055 RBR, or Boss Red Bull racing.

… Boss is reported to have at least two passports and a complex network of offshore accounts, and with these tools, he’s able to travel the world with impunity. More than 120 photos posted on Facebook and Instagram, as well as some racing blogs, show Boss visiting at least nine countries…. He’s cruised Monaco’s harbour, snowboarded Japan’s fresh powder, and celebrated his birthday at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. This means that while authorities say they’ve had no idea where Boss was, his friends, family, and all of their followers seem to have had no doubt about his whereabouts and the good times he’s been having.

… During the time Boss hid in plain sight, an Associated Press (AP) investigation into his whereabouts simultaneously exposed how the Yoovidhya family has spent decades hiding its assets in offshore accounts.

… As the business expanded, Chaleo Yoovidhya began hiding his assets. In 1994, he set up a shell company called Golden Falcon Trading Company in the British Virgin Islands. The Panama Papers, an international collaboration among journalists that began in 2016 to sift through leaked documents that identify the offshore financial dealings of the world’s wealthy, disclosed that ten of Chaleo’s children were shareholders.

The Yoovidhya family’s efforts to hide assets show how billions in private wealth can be moved around the world with minimal regulation to avoid tax and other legal constraints. The extent of the family’s confidential deals was inadvertently exposed by Boss and his social-media-loving cousins during his time on the run: they had posted photos of Boss walking into a London townhouse, and they even included the address….

An investigation into the five-storey brick home showed that it is the address Boss’s father, Chalerm Yoovidhya, gave when incorporating Siam Winery Trading Plus in the UK in 2002, and that his mother, Daranee Yoovidhya, used when opening a food-related business there in 2006. But, according to AP, the listed owner of the home, and at least four other multi-million-dollar properties in London, isn’t the Yoovidhyas—it’s Karnforth Investments, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Panama Papers.

… [T]he main shareholder of the energy drink’s UK business is another British Virgin Islands company called Jerrard Company.

Here’s where it gets complicated: an investigation by AP revealed that Karnforth has just one shareholder, which is Jerrard. And Jerrard is held by a third offshore company, which controls a fourth, called JK Fly. Who owns JK Fly? Karnforth. The Yoovidhyas’ offshore companies overlap with nominee directors—people legally paid small amounts to sign forms and attend directors’ meetings in lieu of the true owners, whose names remain confidential.

According to AP, documents from the Panama Papers show that, for years, money has flowed back and forth between these various entities. For example, in 2005, Jerrard loaned Karnforth $6.5 million US to buy two London properties. In 2012, Jerrard cancelled the mortgages, giving Karnforth ownership of the properties. Since 2010, JK Fly has owed Karnforth, its sole shareholder, about $14 million US in an interest-free loan to purchase aircraft.

… In 2010, and again in 2013, the papers [Panama Papers] show that auditors at Mossack Fonseca’s head offices in Panama—the company that arranged the Yoovidhya’s network of companies—raised concerns about Karnforth and Jerrard. Documents verifying the true owners were missing.

[W]hile other governments were swift and aggressive in responding to Panama Papers revelations, that has not been the case in Thailand. More than 1,400 Thai individuals were identified in the documents, but according to AP, the government calls the reports rumours….

Law professor Viraphong Boonyobhas, director of Chulalongkorn University’s business-crime and money-laundering data bank in Bangkok, would not speak directly about the Yoovidhyas or any other Thai person or company, saying he feared for his legal and physical safety….

Corruption is defined by the abuse of power for private gain. It erodes public trust and undermines institutions. In Thailand, many residents assume the wealthy elite can break the law with impunity. Over generations, people have grown used to giving mandatory “gifts” of cash to judges, police, and government officials in exchange for building and business permits, as well as favourable court decisions. They’ve watched as rich and influential families win lucrative contracts and avoid prosecutors.

Here’s who gets arrested in Thailand: citizens gathering for nonviolent protests to denounce the coup-installed junta government, bloggers posting social-media messages critical of the king, journalists carrying bulletproof vests and helmets for protection at riots that at times turn deadly.

The policeman’s family grieved but figured at least there would be justice.

They didn’t get it and they know the justice system “runs on a ‘double standard’…”. In Thailand, “the justice system has two tracks: one for the elite and one for everybody else.”





Journalists do the state’s work

18 08 2017

The Associated Press’s report on Red Bull family is worth reading in full. It is getting considerable international attention for issues of tax avoidance and the unaccountable power that comes from great wealth in Thailand (and elsewhere).

We won’t repeat it all here. We do recall that, back in May,

“Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the suspect in a brutal hit-and-run case in which a police officer was killed, gave authorities the slip once again by leaving Thailand for an unknown destination on April 25, just two days before he was due to answer charges over the 2012 incident.”

Five years after the allegedly coked-up and drunk rich kid ran over a cop and drove off, dragging the body along, to hide from the law in his gated and guarded family home. Lawyers and fixers got to work.

Five years have produced no justice. How can that be? Vorayuth lived the high life around the world as he avoided justice. Some police and others with power in Thailand were obviously complicit.

PPT said that this case demonstrated how Thailand’s (in)justice system doesn’t work, except for the junta when it wanted to lock up the poor and political opponents.

Vorayuth’s flight and high life around the world was revealed by AP (not the Thai authorities) back in March. It was AP researchers and reporters who tracked him down in London.

Why is it that journalists do this investigations while Thailand’s leaders and state agencies remain silent.

AP’s pursuit of the Red Bull killer and the continuing (manufactured) failure of the Thai authorities to track down a scion of one of Thailand’s richest ($12.5 billion) and most influential families has led to the latest AP story.

Thai authorities will probably now issue statements about how they have been “investigating,” but then go back to their legal slumber, induced by the influential.

AP has trawled the Panama Papers for this story and investigated the Yoovidhya family’s secret money trail, its tax avoidance minimization and its extraordinary efforts to conceal all of this. Their concealing of ownership even baffled Mossack Fonseca, the company that managed its international transfers and concealing.

On Thailand’s failures, the AP story makes that wider than just the Red Bull family:

While other governments were swift and aggressive in responding to Panama Papers revelations, that has not been the case in Thailand. More than 1,400 Thai individuals were identified in the documents, but the government calls the reports rumors with no evidence.

Last year, Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office said it was investigating more than a dozen of those individuals — unnamed current and former politicians and business people. To date, that office has not reported any crimes, however, and it would not answer AP’s questions.

The rich and powerful in Thailand can get away with murder. Readers will soon realize just how scary these plutocrats can be when the AP story interviews Viraphong Boonyobhas, the director of Chulalongkorn University’s business crime and money-laundering databank. It is added:

Viraphong would not speak directly about the Yoovidhyas or any other Thai person or company, saying he feared for his legal and physical safety, but added that his expectations for accountability in the military-run government are low.

Thai authorities have vowed to fight corruption, but “wealthy people in Thailand are influential people,” Viraphong said. “Maybe the government can’t untangle such a complicated network.”

That’s a story about how Thailand is actually run. The whole system is not just built on double standards, but is structured to funnel wealth to the top Sino-Thai tycoons through corrupt military and bureaucratic machinery that, for a fee and reflected “barami,” covers money trails. Ideological devices associated with the obscenely rich monarchy are in place to make the greedy appear among the “good” people who slosh about in troughs of money.





Updated: Panama Papers live

10 05 2016

ICIJThe Panama Papers database was released a few hours ago.

The data provided is combined with the Offshore Leaks database. The online search functions are pretty basic.

PPT did a quick search using some of the names of the rich and politically powerful in Thailand. Our search was of the 10 super-rich listed by Forbes, the names listed in an earlier post, as well as a few top political names.

The results showed that the story for those who had their names previously listed in the Offshore Leaks database from several years ago remains the same. For the super-rich, about half of them appear to be listed in the Panama Papers, with most activity centering on family trusts. Several of them show links to China.

We couldn’t find any new Panama Papers links to some of the better known political families in our quick search apart from a Shinawatra name we didn’t recognize and Piyapas Bhirombhakdi.

Obviously, PPT hasn’t been systematic on this, but it would seem that the 16-21 names the “authorities” said they would “investigate” might be rather too limited. Readers might do their own searches and let us know if they find interesting links and data.

Panama

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall posted on Facebook that he managed to search and find more than 1,000 names associated with “Thailand” in the database.





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.