Who is paying the piper?

14 11 2012

While the Puea Thai Party-led government is trying to play down the Pitak Siam rally planned for 24 November, it is clear that ardent yellow shirts are hoping for confrontations. Their social media are reflecting this desire as part of a broader mobilization strategy for the groups that came together in 2006 and 2008, then under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

National police chief General Adul Saengsingkaew, who will be responsible for overseeing the protest and maintaining law and order during the rally, seems far less sure. He states that he will “propose the cabinet invoke the Internal Security Act.” That too would please the more agitated amongst the royalist anti-Thaksinites.

Most interesting in Adul’s comments was the report that he “confirmed that reports that a group of people had contributed a total of six billion baht to a fund for the ousting of the Yingluck Shinawatra government matched information in a Special Branch Police intelligence report.” If such a huge amount is even considered likely, that is a large war chest indeed, and social media accounts have some of this coming from disgruntled rice traders.

Adul added that “the same group also supported the “anti-government rallygoers”, but declined to give further details.” In the past, rumors have circulated about support to yellow shirts from anti-Thaksin Sino-Thai tycoons from banking conglomerates and including industrialists like  Prachai Leophairatana. In earlier posts on this funding, PPT stated:

Prachai became a solid member of the group of Sino-Thai businesspeople who opposed Thaksin and, some suggest, he became major funders to PAD. Readers might also recall that one of the cases that saw the Democrat Party get off charges that originated in the Election Commission, where Prachai and TPI Polene stood accused of an illegal transfer of funds to the Party.

As we have been saying in recent posts, it really is beginning to look like the old gang is getting back together. If they have solid funding, then a long standoff, violence and political gridlock are not out of the question.





Sondhi gets jail time, bailed

9 08 2012

Readers will be interested in a brief story at The Nation that reports the sentencing of People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul to jail. As usual, it isn’t that simple, for he has been bailed on appeal.

The Rayong Provincial Court reportedly sentenced Sondhi “to two years in jail for defaming General Mongkol Ampornpisit, former chairman of the TPI Polene rehabilitation committee.” He also received a fine.

The lawsuit, dating from 2007, saw Mongkol claiming that Sondhi had defamed him in a broadcast talk show on 25 May that year. The report doesn’t note that Mongkol is a former close aide to Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and a former supreme commander of the armed forces.

The short report says that the case revolved around Sondhi’s claim that “Mongkol had abused his authority to siphon money from TPI, which later changed its name to IRPC, by paying himself a huge salary as well as giving large fees to an advisory firm.” The Rayong Court decided that Sondhi was guilty and sentenced him to two years in jail, with no suspension of the term. As noted above, Sondhi has been released on bail pending his appeal.

The first point to make is that when advocates of the lese majeste law claim that it is “like the defamation law,” they can’t be believed. Sondhi gets immediate bail. Think of all the lese majeste cases where bail is refused again and again, and where sentences are regularly for 10-20 years.

On the case itself, and Sondhi’s involvement, the story is a longish one and PPT has to admit that we haven’t followed it too much. However, it is worth noting that General Prem’s associate General Mongkol was initially appointed to TPI by the Thaksin Shinawatra government. TPI was a festering sore amongst the companies that had crashed following the beginning of the 1997 economic crisis.  The Leophairatana family had refused to restructure the company as its debt mushroomed. As an incomplete Wikipedia page describes it:

When the crisis struck, it emerged that TPI owed US$3.2 billion in external debt to some four hundred creditors. In 1997, the group made exchange losses of … around 5 billion USD. All expansion plans were put on hold, and TPI entered into acrimonious negotiations with its creditors. In an attempt to retain control, Prachai [Leophairatana] put both the holding company and the cement firm, TPI Polene, into the bankruptcy court in 2000. Over the next five years, Prachai used lawsuits, political connections, public advertising, and nationalist posturing in his attempt to retain control. However, with … Thaksin Shinawatra’s term in office, …[and] a bankruptcy court ruling in 2005, the state-owned petroleum corporation PTT, became the major investor in TPI with a 30 percent stake and the family was reduced to a 15 percent minority.

Prachai also mounted media campaigns, painting himself as an injured party. General Mongkol was made head of the plan administrators charged with coming up with a debt restructuring plan for TPI. Prachai was eventually forced out and had to sell his remaining stock.

It is little wonder then, that Prachai became a solid member of the group of Sino-Thai businesspeople who opposed Thaksin and, some suggest, he became major funders to PAD. Readers might also recall that one of the cases that saw the Democrat Party get off charges that originated in the Election Commission, where Prachai and TPI Polene stood accused of an illegal transfer of funds to the Party. TPI Polene is still controlled by Prachai and his relatives (be aware that this is a large PDF, and if downloaded, read from about p. 143) and has continued to fight for it. There’s some more available on the story, indicating Prachai’s politics and his fallout with Thaksin.

Prachai has managed, despite once being Thailand’s largest debtor, kept his fortune, and is ranked 29th richest person in Thailand.

Sondhi appears to have appreciated Prachai’s support, and hence spoke for him and against General Mongkol. It should be added that the relationship between Prem and Sondhi has not been smooth, and this may be related to the Sondhi’s support of Prachai and his attack on General Mongkol. In addition, a major creditor to TPI was reportedly the Bangkok Bank, where Prem has long had connections and mutual support.





Thailand’s richest minus one

31 08 2011

Forbes has published its annual rich list for Thailand. It notes that Thailand’s stock exchange has been one of the world’s best performing over the past year and the baht has appreciated, adding to the wealth in dollar terms for many of the already fabulously rich. For all of the political conflict, Forbes says:

Collectively the wealth of the richest 40 advanced 25% to an aggregate $45 billion. Their asset growth is helping these industrialists ramp up investments in operations abroad like never before. The wealth of three-quarters of those on the list rose.

The top ten on the Forbes list are as follows:

#1 Dhanin Chearavanont, Net Worth $7,400 mil

#2 Chaleo Yoovidhya, Net Worth $5,000 mil

#3 Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Net Worth $4,800 mil

#4 Chirathivat family, Net Worth $4,300mil

#5 Krit Ratanarak & family, Net Worth $2,500 mil

#6 Aloke Lohia, Net Worth $2,100 mil

#7 Chamnong Bhirombhakdi, Net Worth $2,000 mil

#8 Vichai Maleenont, Net Worth $1,500 mil

#9 Isara Vongkusolkit & family, Net Worth $1,400 mil

#10 Praneetsilpa Vacharaphol & family, Net Worth $1,050 mil

Of the top three, Forbes says this:

Dhanin Chearavanont, who owns agribusiness conglomerate, Charoen Pokphand Group, remains in the top spot at $7.4 billion. In second place is the $5 billion fortune of Chaleo Yoovidhya, co-owner of Red Bull energy drinks, closely followed by the $4.8 billion of whiskey king Charoen Sirivadhanbhakdi. The top three have seen their net worths swell over the past year as consumers buy up their wares.

Thaksin Shinawatra has not been left behind either, although he ranks much lower than he would have a decade ago:

… Thaksin Shinawatra (No. 19), rose 53% to $600 million, thanks to a stock split and doubling of share price of his family’s real estate development firm, SC Asset.

One of Thaksin’s enemies, Prachai Leophairatana, is said to be a phoenix story:

rising from the ashes of Asia’s 1997 financial conflagration. Prachai Leophairatana, the former billionaire once known as Thailand’s biggest defaulter, with $3.8 billion in bad loans at his defunct Thai Petrochemical Industries group, is on the rebound. Shares of the remaining part of his empire, cement maker TPI Polene hit a three-year high in August, putting this controversial tycoon on the list at No. 29, with $300 million.

As usual, Thailand’s richest family, the royal family, is not on the list. Forbes usually includes the king at the top of its world’s richest royals each year.

Even so, there are plenty of royalists in the list. The top four are all known to be generous supporters of royal galas and other pet projects and Prachai was long seen as a funder of anti-Thaksin yellow shirt rallies, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy.





With 4 updates: State of emergency declared

7 04 2010

The Nation reports that “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded the enforcement of Internal Security Act (ISA) had failed to deter the protests by the red shirts.” He therefore “deemed it necessary to invoke the emergency decree over Bangkok” and surrounding provinces. Abhisit said: “”We want to facilitate other actions to restore peace and order. The actions will be in accordance with the law and international standard…”. He promised the enforcement of laws, “including the legal proceedings against red shirts leaders.”

This followed a day of actions from both the red shirts and the government. The government announced plans to close the red shirt television station and, led by firebrand Arisman Pongruangrong, more than 1,000 red shirts entered parliament’s compound after two fire bombs were allegedly aimed at protesters. Arisman reportedly entered the parliament building with 20 supporters. They stayed only a short time.

Abhisit, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey, and acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn climbed over the ladder into Vimarn Mek palace, boarded a helicopter and went to “the government’s commanding center inside the 11 th Infantry Regiment.” Abhisit reportedly left “his cabinet and other MPs inside the Parliament.”

Meanwhile, “Deputy House Speaker Apiwan Ariyachai took the stage of the red shirts and told the cheering protesters that a senior army officer told him by telephone several times that the armed forces would withdraw supports for Abhisit and his government.” This raises a very interesting question as Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has refused to use troops against protesters while they remain peaceful. Recall that open rebellion by this same army leader brought down the government of Somchai Wongsawat when he refused to move against PAD protesters occupying the airport in late 2008.

Update 1: The “fire bombs” noted above may have been CS gas canisters. BusinessWeek has an update. The government states that it will take legal action against the red shirts who entered the parliament compound. Metropolitan Police chief Santhan Chayanont said “a pistol and an M16 rifle seized by the red shirts at the parliament were in the possession of Pvt Chalothorn Kimso, a military policeman, who was the driver of a car leading Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban’s motorcade. He said Pvt Chalothorn, was questioned about it and said he was shocked seeing the red-shirts storming into parliament. He took the weapons out of the car to find a place to store them. But, during the melee, the weapons were snatched from his hand. Pvt Chalothorn had filed a complaint with Dusit police, Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said.”

Pol Lt-Gen Santhan also “said he was informed by Pol Maj-Gen Phakapong Pongpetra, a crowd control commander, that the [gas] canisters were snatched from their bindings on the chests of police on guard duty by the red-shirts rushing into the parliament compound. The canisters were then thrown into the crowd of protesters.  This led to wrongful claims the government forces had tried to bomb the protesters.  Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said what happened would be further investigated. However, police had been told not to use tear gas against the protesters unless they were first given permission. This permission could be given only by the government’s Centre for Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO).” There’s confusion on this as the red shirts talk of “two tear gas shells found at the Ratchaprasong rally site.”

Meanwhile, Abhisit mentioned that the state of emergency was a direct result of the “red shirts of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) broke into the parliamentary compound, forcing cabinet members, including himself, and MPs attending a House meeting to flee for safety.”

Photos at the Bangkok Post show red shirts climbing the gate into what appears to be the parliament compound and opening it for their comrades. There seem no security forces involved until later photos. None of the photos have labels. They also show the grabbing of the M16. More photos here of Suthep and an armed guard – some suggest a Democrat Party MP – in parliament.

Update 2: For background on the decree on state of emergency, see Bangkok Pundit’s important post. The Irrawaddy notes that “[m]any Thai columnists and editorials on Wednesday questioned whether Abhisit was losing the weeks-old confrontation with the protesters and the crucial backing of the military and police. At least four former prime ministers planned to step into the fray in an attempt to negotiate an end to the crisis, state media reports said.” Well-known royalist and former head of the National Security Council Prasong Soonsiri offered advice to Abhisit: “If I were the prime minister, I would have got rid of those who would not carry out my orders…”. . He said “there was strong support for the Red Shirts within the civil service and law enforcement agencies.”

Update 3: The Nation reports a series of bombings, including on red shirts. The headliner is another claimed grenade attack on General Anupong’s office last Tuesday. Police have tried to link police “suspended Army specialist Maj-General Khattiya Sawas-diphol for questioning, because he was seen near the Democrat Party compound before the grenade attacks.”

Update 4: More bombings reported by The Nation. One was at the headquarters of the New Politics Party, apparently using an M203 grenade launcher attached to an M16 rifle – that’s suggesting considerably more sophistication than in other attacks and probably military links. The other at the TPI building. TPI is a company linked to – depending which bit of  it you look at – the Bangkok Bank and/or Prachai Leophairatana.





Double standards again

14 02 2010

 

PPT readers will be aware of the sudden revelation by the Democrat Party of funds allegedly being transferred to the opposition red shirts from abroad (see here and here). The prime minister, deputy prime minister, justice minister and a gaggle of spin doctors and spokesmen have all said that investigations are ongoing to prove this so far unsubstantiated claim.

 

Meanwhile the alleged illegal transfer of funds to the Democrat Party, from within the country, continues to drag along with postponements and other delays. The contrast with the current investigations of the red shirts could not be more stark. Both cases are riddled with political interests.

 

The Nation (14 February 2010) reports that the Election Commission team looking into the Democrat Party dissolution case yesterday said it still has much work to do, particularly since the report from the Department of Special Investigation contained many holes.”

 

Apparently, the DSI has “not concluded whether TPI Polene’s Bt258-million donation to the Democrats was obtained lawfully…. Nor has it filed a complaint accusing the party of violating the Political Party Act, which could lead to its being disbanded.”

 

The investigating panel has apparently called in a former DSI deputy director who had worked on the DSI report. Apparently, the investigation revolves around a question of whether the “DSI believes TPI Polene illegally siphoned the Bt258 million from the Financial Institutions Development Fund, since the company was still in rehabilitation. If so, the then CEO of TPI, Prachai Leophairatana, would be subject to legal action for violating the Securities and Exchange Act of 1992.

 

The former DSI officer claims the EC has plenty of clear evidence in the 7,000 page report “submitted to EC chairman Apichart Sukhagganond in his capacity as the political-party registrar last March…” following more than a year of investigation.

 

In terms of the donation to the Democrat Party, at issue is the question of whether it was an unlawful donation. Receiving and using an unlawful donation means the “party could be disbanded for violating the Political Party Act…”. However, for this to occur, the investigating panel would have to consider the Party’s intent to “violate the law, commit an offence against morality or disturb peace and order.” To reach a conclusion on this is going to require a truckload of evidence and testimony.

 

Democrat politicians say “the alleged donation never took place” and that the “party never obtained it.” It was a business deal with relatives of Democrats. Where have we heard that kind of excuse before?

 

It is clear that this case is being deliberately delayed for political purposes. If it isn’t, then the authorities are doing a pretty good job of providing that impression.