Moving the country towards a dead end

25 09 2020

The king has come and gone and about the only notable thing seems to have been a meeting between the king, queen and Pojaman na Pombhejara (formerly Shinawatra), at least according to social media.

While the king and queen were doing their “duties,” constitutional change was front-and-center elsewhere.

A few demonstrators conducted an exorcism in front of the Army headquarters on Wednesday “to rid the country of senators chosen by the junta.” This was followed yesterday with a  mass rally outside outside parliament. The “pro-democracy group says the current charter was put in place by a military junta and is undemocratic. They are calling for amendments specifically to clauses which allow the military-appointed senate to vote for the prime minister.”

Inside parliament, the junta selected and appointed senators, “many of them generals and military officials, escaped from parliament on Thursday by boat and the back-exit rather than face angry pro-democracy demonstrators after they voted to postpone amending the constitution.”

The junta’s party, coalition and senators combined to vote 432 to 255 “to set up exploratory committees to study potential amendments to the military-drafted constitution instead of amending the charter on Thursday night.”

The opposition parties walked out of parliament “in protest with the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, calling the vote ‘a way to stall for time’ and said that parliament’s decision on Thursday was moving the country towards a dead end.”

In fact, the dead end was the junta and its constitution.

Getting out of that means more pressure: “Anon Numpha, a key protest leader, told reporters and protesters that now was the time to step up protests and called for more rallies in October.”





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.





Stashing loot

4 04 2013

We are sure readers will find this report, from the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists of interest, especially the account of Thailand’s rich stashing their loot in offshore accounts. The story is much bigger than Thailand. The Thailand account begins:moneybags 1

Nearly 600 Thais have owned offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other havens.

Politicians and billionaire business magnates are among the prominent Thais listed in secret documents as owners of offshore holdings in tropical tax havens.

The list includes the former wife of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a sitting senator, a former high-ranking defense ministry official, Forbes-listed tycoons, and a former government minister whose assets in the United States are frozen because of her alleged links to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

Most of the report concentrates on Nalinee Taveesin and Thaksin’s former wife, Pojaman, and her brother Bhanapot Damapong, which is understandable for journalists with the anti-Thaksin bit in their teeth and wanting to demonstrate ever more political corruption, but the other 598 names are also of some interest, especially as business tycoons hide some of their wealth with gay abandon.

Nalinee is now under investigation for corruption, who we thought was briefly in Yingluck Shinawatra’s cabinet in 2012, and whose webpage hasn’t changed since then, but is still reported as a minister in some accounts, or she portrays herself as such.

Of course, this report will come as no real surprise for anyone who follows Thailand closely, for it has long been assumed that wealthy Thais stash their money in places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei for decades. And, in the investigations of the Thaksin transfers over the sale of Shin Corp, overseas tax havens featured. However, this report names some names from what must be still a mine of information:

The ICIJ unearthed details of the offshore holdings through an analysis of about 2.5 million files largely associated with two offshore services providers, Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and British Virgin Islands-based Commonwealth Trust Limited.

Among the hundreds of other Thai names that appear in the ICIJ data is Admiral Bannawit Kengrian, “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.

Also listed are “members of the Chirathivat family” who own the Central Group and are the second – well, third, if the royal family is included – in the 2012, Forbes list of Thailand’s richest, the Vongkusolkit family, also amongst Thailand’s richest, and Yuenyong Opakul or Add Carabao who has business interests that include the energy drink company Carabao Tawandang.

There is plenty more at the website of the ICIJ and there must be tons more interesting detail of the networks that span Thailand’s ruling class.





Obscuring by political concoction

13 12 2012

As any long-time reader of PPT knows, the wealthiest family in Thailand is the royal family. If the wealth of the top ten in the annual Forbes list is combined, then the total comes out roughly the same as the assets of the Crown Property Bureau alone, leaving aside the other assets of the royal family.Money & Banking

Another measure of wealth that comes out each year for Thailand is the Money & Banking/การเงินการธนาคาร list of top shareholders at the Stock Exchange of Thailand. We do not recall it including the royal family’s personal shareholdings. PPT hasn’t seen the latest issue and ranking (the cover is reproduced, right), but we note a story based on it from The Nation.

PPT’s attention was drawn to the article by the headline: “Richest stockholders linked to govt, PM”. As far as we can tell, this is a complete fabrication by the newspaper. This concoction – made for blatantly political purposes – is apparently not even based on the data the editors of this fish wrap  reproduce in their own story. The first lines of the story modify the false headline only slightly: “Politicians and their families, especially some people close to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government … rank among the richest stockholders in the country.”

Well, yes, they do rank “among the 5,737 millionaires as of September…” – yes, that is more than 5,700.

The Nation breathlessly states: there “are Yingluck’s two nieces, who are daughters of her big brother and former prime minister Thaksin [Shinawatra].” It shows that “Paethongtarn Shinawatra, was ranked 47th with her 29-per-cent holding in SC Asset worth Bt3.46 billion, while Pinthongta Shinawatra was 53rd with a 28-per-cent stake in the same real-estate company worth Bt3.35 billion.”

What the data show is that the top 46 stockholders are not related to the government or prime minister, at least not according to The Nation’s data.

The paper does find others who are not “Richest stockholders linked to govt, PM”, but claims they are: “Pojaman na Pombejra, Thaksin’s ex-wife, fell to 502nd” place on the list, while “Pongthep Thepkanjana, deputy prime minister and education minister, has his wife and daughter on the list. Yapa was ranked 244th with a 2.1-per-cent interest in Kiatnakin Bank worth Bt795.50 million, while his wife Panida was 264th with a 1.9-per-cent stake worth Bt728.08 million in the bank.” Then they dug up “Artharn at 1,811st with a 2.6-per-cent stake worth Bt58.28 million in Unimit Engineering, and Duang at 2,213rd with 1.8 per cent or Bt38.60 million in the same company,” who are sons of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

It is quite clear that The Nation has simply made up its headline and concocted a story. It has long been known that the Shinawatra clan is wealthy, and they have appeared on the Money & Banking list for many years, often much higher ranked than they are now. Pongthep’s family has also been on the list for some time.

Recent reports suggest that the king’s personal holdings “include shares valued at $63 million in companies including Minor International Pcl (MINT), Thailand’s biggest hotel operator … according to data compiled by Bloomberg.” If accurate, that alone would rank the king above Pongthep’s wife and daughter combined.

If real analysis was done of the biggest shareholders, we have little doubt that the real headline would be “Richest stockholders linked to Democrat Party.”

The Nation is too often a disgraceful pile of pulp and remarkably stupid in its concoctions.





V for vendetta

24 02 2011

Vendetta is not our word. It is from the Bangkok Post and refers to the fact that “[n]early half of the board members of TOT Plc have tendered their resignations over the past two days for fear of a possible legal backlash over the state enterprise’s move to demand compensation from mobile market leader Advanced Info Service. Five of the 12 board members decided to quit because they were unhappy with the board’s decision to submit the AIS compensation case for approval at a meeting tomorrow, TOT sources said.”

The Post goes on to say that “TOT is under pressure from the government to pursue massive compensation from AIS over a series of amendments to its concession.” The Abhisit Vejjajiva government claims that the amendments caused TOT to lose 74 billion baht.

One of the board members stated that the “directors had gradually quit because they were frustrated at the government’s pressure on TOT to demand compensation from AIS.” He claimed that the government’s action was probably in breach of the 1992 Public-Private Joint Venture Act.

This action by the government relates to complicated changes undertaken in the mobile telecoms sector when Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister and when his family controlled AIS. The company was later sold to Singapore’s Temasek.

The implication of the Post headline is that the Abhisit government is continuing its vendetta against anything considered to relate to Thaksin.

Some might also see a recent political case, also reported in the Bangkok Post, as falling under the V word. Chinnicha Wongsawat is a Puea Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai and the daughter of former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and Thaksin’s niece.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission “has asked the Supreme Court to bar [Chinnicha] from holding political office for five years after she failed to reveal the full extent of her liabilities when taking office as an MP.” It says that “she failed in a declaration of her assets and liabilities to the NACC on Jan 22, 2008, upon being elected an MP, to include a debt of 100million baht that she owed to businessman Bannapot Damapong, a stepbrother of Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, the former wife of Thaksin.”

“Chinnicha said she did not declare the debt in the first place because she believed she was not required to do so until the Assets Scrutiny Committee – the graft panel set up by the engineers of the Sept 19, 2006, coup that ousted Thaksin from power and later disbanded – had ruled on whether to unfreeze the money.”

The NACC has “decided the MP had intentionally submitted a false declaration of assets and liabilities.” It wants her banned for 5 years. PPT doesn’t know the intricacies of the machinations over money that went on following the coup, but it seems odd indeed that liabilities and funds frozen by the government at the time would be considered “deliberately hidden.”

It is easy to conclude that the anti-Thaksin vendetta continues unabated as the royalist regime seeks to further embed its rule.





Controlling the police

6 08 2009

As PPT readers know, there has been considerable political wheeling and dealing concerning Police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan. Now Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has appointed a stand-in while Patcharawat is on leave. Well, maybe he’s on leave. He showed up for work even after a caretaker police chief had been appointed.

The Nation (5 August 2009: “PM names caretaker police chief”) reported that Police General Wichien Potposri has been appointed. The Nation reports that Wichien is seen as “relatively impartial in handling politically related events so there is a chance that he could be made national police chief once Patcharawat retires.”

The Bangkok Post (4 August 2009: “PM appoints acting police chief”) reported Abhisit as saying that he had appointed Wichien “based on his seniority and appreciable work record.”

A couple of points to make here. First, as Bangkok Pundit notes, Wichien was previously head of the Office of the Royal Court Security Police. Second, under the military-backed government of privy councilor-cum-prime minister Surayud Chulanond, Wichien was responsible for working with provincial governors to “curb possible violence throughout Thailand.” In other words, he worked with the junta – the Council for National Security – to crack down on potential demonstrations opposing the military-backed government, including limiting the freedom of movement of rural people. During the 2007 general election, he was “in charge of advance balloting.”

All of this means that the Democrat Party is appointing a trusted policeman. Why is this so important?

One answer is to look at PPT’s post on Chai-Anan Samudavanija, the PAD ideologue, who says that the “police are 100% for Thaksin and the red shirts.”

Another answer lies in the promotions and seniority problem Abhisit is trying to deal with. This is why the “prime minister … said a police reshuffle list under the new organisational structure of the Royal Thai Police Office would be put on hold. He would rather leave the list to be finalized by the next police chief. Pol Gen Patcharawat is due to retire at the end of September.” This is also why Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has “ordered the Police Commission to a meeting soon to review the list, which involves high-level police officers. Mr Suthep denied a report that the reshuffle would be reviewed because some officers were not satisfied that they were excluded, saying it was only a rumour. He insisted that no politicians had interfered in the making of the list.”

That would seem highly unlikely, but Abhisit and Suthep need to avoid such allegations as such interference is unlawful.

Abhisit and Suthep are trying to prevent the rise of Police General “Prieopan Damapong, a deputy national police chief, who is the senior-most officer. However, Prieopan is the older brother of Pojaman, the ex-wife of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and is current on assignment at provincial police units.”

In other words, impartiality has nothing to do with these actions. Rather, the aim is to appoint political allies and try to take control of the police.

This was tried before, when Seripisut Temiyavet (originally Seri Temiyavet) was appointed under the CNS, but who was not always politically reliable and got into trouble over lese majeste issues..