Footballing oligarchs II

24 05 2016

Less than a week ago, PPT posted on the penchant of oligarchs for football and snapping up teams that promote their interests and, if things work out, make them even more money.

As everyone in the world knows, Leicester City recently collected some silverware as outsiders made good. As we noted in that earlier post, the club has been owned by football-loving, polo-playing oligarch, monopolist and royalist Vichai Raksriaksorn (who has a royally-bestowed moniker, Srivaddhanaprabha). Vichai made oodles of money through his monopoly on duty free at Thailand’s airports, through his company King Power.King Power

Thailand’s airports have long been the property of the military. They are now part of a listed company, Airports of Thailand. Now the Ministry of Finance controls 70% of AOT’s stock but four of the 14-member Board of Directors continue to carry military ranks. As far as we can tell, only one of the directors of AOT is not a serving or retired official or worked for AOT. The senior executive of AOT continues to have quite a few military ranks listed.

In other words, gaining a monopoly on duty free requires high-level political support and close relations with the senior brass. Exactly how Vichai managed this in the beginning has never been made clear. He went from unknown to billionaire in a relatively short time. King Power began in 1989, with a license granted for Thailand’s first downtown duty free shop at Mahatun Plaza. How it was that King Power got the Chatichai Choonhavan government to award the license isn’t easily seen, but as Chatichai opened to the former enemies across the border, King Power got a license in Phnom Penh soon after. By 1993, King Power had Don Muang airport under its wing. All of this during a period of civilian versus military political tussling.

In a story linked to below, The Nation states:

In addition to the ruling junta, the wealthy businessman has managed to build good ties with both politicians and military figures in powerful posts. And thanks to these cosy relationships, his company has managed to win coveted deals from influential people at key times, including a concession to operate duty-free shops at major airports that has grown into a Bt68-billion-a-year business.

Now that he and his kids – the Sino-Thai tycoon model of family business – are on top of the world, what does this mean for Vichai and Thailand’s politics. Some measure of this comes from recent press reports on Leicester City in Thailand.

An AFP report states that the “Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval … at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, with the Thai-owned team presenting its trophy to a portrait of the king before a bus parade through the capital.”

Leicester 2

To most people in the world, this sentence will seem very odd. How does one present a trophy to a portrait and how does a portrait provide “a royal seal of approval”? Why would they present a trophy to a king of another land be he real or a portrait?

In royalist Thailand, however, most things associated with the monarchy are very odd. It has become normalized for sports champions to “present” their medals or trophies to the king as a sign of loyalty. Not doing so becomes disloyalty. At the same time, the businessmen and businesswomen who manage and profit from big sports (and gambling on sport) in Thailand get the reflected royal aura. That’s good for business.

So when Leicester City “present” the silverware to the king’s portrait, “[l]ocal television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai …, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.” In fact, they got on their knees, another “tradition” reintroduced in this reign.

Leicester 1

The team later went on an open-top bus parade through Bangkok. More on that below.

And, oh yes, Vichai’s King Power brand was everywhere. The parade “wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.” Continuing the royalist theme, “[d]uring their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players…”.

For the company King Power, the seal of approval is also coveted. According to Chulchit Bunyaketu, listed at the company website as a “Counselor,”The fact that the company was awarded the Royal Decree and is under the patronage of His Majesty the King clearly reflects on the integrity, capability, and honesty of our company and staff members.”

The Mail Online has more on the parade, noting Vichai’s commercialization and use of pliable monks: “Vichai is a regular devotee of Phra Prommangkalachan … and took the monk to Britain to bless the stadium and the team.” So the players trooped of to the royal Emerald Buddha temple.

It is The Sun that made most of the “thousands of Thais [who] were paid to pose as Leicester City fans for the club’s Premier League victory parade in Thailand…”.

Many of those dressed in club colors were there having “responded to a social media advert offering to pay people for a ‘Leicester parade job’. They were to get 500 baht…. They were asked to meet at the Bangkok HQ of the King Power company … [and] were also given free club T-shirts and urged to clap and chant during the celebration.” King Power employees were also mobilized.

All of this is obviously good for business, but thetre is also political speculation. The Nation explains some of this. It says that Leicester City’s “well-connected billionaire owner, Vichai … has … been linked to an alliance with political friends and the ruling generals that could result in a new political party…”.

It says that “his massive wealth and strong connections” mean that “Vichai is seen by some as having the potential to be the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ needed for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] to retain power via a new political party.”

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Vichai is said to have good relations with “many key figures’ in the military junta, naming “Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, one of the most influential figures in the ruling junta.”

The story goes on, saying Vichai is close to “Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Newin Chidchob, the former Cabinet minister and political broker who owns Thailand’s leading football club Buriram United.”

Anutin is rumored to have close links with the palace, and it was his father Chavarat who worked with Newin and the generals in 2008 to make Abhisit Vejjajiva prime minister and Bhum Jai Thai the military’s party as it went to the 2011 election. The military and the party failed spectacularly as Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party won in a landslide.Newin and King Power

This time around it is stated that an “alliance between Vichai, Newin and Anutin, plus support from Prawit -in the background, would be a coalition between a financial group and a power clique set for the new political landscape…”.

Newin and Vichai have a mutual interest in football and politics and blue pervades Buriram as much as it does Leicester, not to mention a group of blue-shirted thugs organized by Newin and Suthep Thaugsuban in 2009 to oppose red shirts.

Vast stocks of cash, royalism, political savvy and skills in the “dark arts” of vote-buying and great influence are just what a military party will need (if an election is ever permitted).

Torture and the state

20 05 2016

As readers will know, PPT has often stated that torture is a standard operating procedure for police and the military when dealing with “suspects.” Many cases depend on “confessions” extracted under such pressure.

Recently, one of those accused of the Erawan Shrine bombing bitterly complained of torture while Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan scoffed at the claim, saying the man had injured himself.

It is in this context that a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court of Songkhla is potentially important. This is how the Asian Human Rights Commission reports it:

May 18, 2016 marks an important date in the fight against torture in Thailand. The Supreme Administrative Court of Songkla read the official verdict ordering The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) to pay 101,200 baht to Plaintiff no. 1 and 100,000 baht to Plaintiff no. 2 (with 7.5 % interest calculated from 2012) in damages for two victims who suffered torture/ill treatment in Yala Province. This will result in both Plaintiffs receiving approximately $5000 USD each. The verdict stems from an incident that took place over 7 years ago in 2009, when the injured parties were then 14 and 20 years old respectively. The case sets an important precedent, extending the right to claim for damages beyond the torture victims themselves to the family members who were also unduly affected as a result of the abuse.

Mr. Adil Samae, then 14 years old, and Mr. Mafoawsee Kwangboo, then 20 years old, were detained by a military patrol force on 11 April 2009. The arrest took place around Pattani River, Tambon Sateng, Yala district in the Yala province. During detention, the soldiers physically and verbally abused the young men.

A civil case was subsequently filed with Songkhla Administrative Court, demanding that the Defense Ministry, the Army, and Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) compensate the men for the harm suffered by the soldiers in their line of duty.

Prior to the commencement of the civil case, one of the accused officers pleaded guilty and was indicted on criminal charges by the Pattani Military Court for the physical assault that he launched against the two men. In light of his guilty plea, what would have otherwise been a two-year sentence was reduced by more than half to a six-month imprisonment and a 2,000 baht fine. This sentence was later suspended due to the actions of the first offender.

All the old tricks

17 05 2016

Back when the military-directed 2007 constitution was put to a referendum, two claims were made to lubricate the electorate and to coax opponents. One was that the draft, if approved, could be easily changed later. The second was that if the draft was rejected in the referendum, then the promised election would be interminably delayed.

In the end, the draft was approved and changing it proved virtually impossible (except for the military-backed Democrat Party’s government), with the politicized Constitutional Court repeatedly standing in the way of changes that were proposed.

As the 2016 constitutional referendum on the junta’s charter draws closer, the same tricks are being rolled out again.

Trick 1 is reported in the Bangkok Post that the puppet Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), via chairman Meechai Ruchupan, has moved “to entice people into voting for the draft charter first, with any amendments, if needed, to be undertaken later.”

The provisions of the draft charter make amendment almost impossible, and that is how the military junta intends it.

Trick 2 is reported in another Post story. Dumpy Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan has warned that if the “draft constitution is voted down in the referendum a new committee would be set up to draft another new one, meaning the general election may have to be delayed beyond 2017…”.

He was following up on a similar threat by The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seemed to relish the idea of staying on in power and delaying the promised (2015 originally) election beyond 2017.

Old tricks seem to fit this junta nicely.

Doubling down on double standards

5 05 2016

PPT was interested to read a story in the Bangkok Post that reports there is yellow-shirted opposition to a “move by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to withdraw a case against former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, and three other senior figures who are charged with malfeasance in connection with the bloody crackdown on yellow-shirt [People’s Alliance for Democracy] protesters in 2008…”.

The report states that NACC chairman Watcharapol Prasarnratchakij set up a panel to study the legal possibilities of charging the senior figures under “Section 157 of the Criminal Code for malfeasance and dereliction of duty and related clauses in the NACC Act and the 2007 charter.”

This is a long-standing case for the NACC since then NACC boss and anti-democrat sympathizer Panthep Klanarongran “made tremendous efforts to push the case to reach the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political-Office Holders.”

The Office of the Attorney-General which initially refused to indict the four defendants (“former deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwon, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, and Pol Lt Gen Suchart Muenkaew, former metropolitan police chief” and Somchai). The NACC “then ignored the OAG” and went ahead with the case.

Another Bangkok Post report is about the PAD response. PAD lawyer Nithithorn Lamlua, PAD members and “relatives of those killed and injured Oct 7, 2008 at parliament, submitted the petition to Suthi Boonmee, director of the NACC’s Information and Special Affairs Office.” They oppose the case being dropped.

As we recall it, one person was killed, apparently when hit by a tear gas canister and another was blown up in his own car, which carried explosives. Some serious injuries were seen to result from PAD’s use of ping pong bombs and the use of tear gas. At the time, PAD was trying to “prevent then-prime minister Somchai from delivering his policy statement at parliament on Oct 7, 2008.”

Nithithorn stated that if the NACC dropped the case against Somchai, PAD would bring a malfeasance case against the NACC.

Carefully tip-toeing around claims that the case was being dropped because Police General Patcharawat is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit, Nithithorn said the family name “had nothing to do with” the case. He did say that “the government would be in trouble if this case was treated in a way to destroy the justice process.”

Panthep Puapongpan, a PAD core member, was more upfront when recognized that the NACC is a junta puppet agency when he “said he believed the NACC would not withdraw the case as doing so would destroy the legitimacy and credibility of the government because the present members of the NACC were appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order [he means the military junta].” He declared that if General Prayuth Chan-ocha and General Prawit “turned a blind eye to this matter, PAD core members would regroup to demand justice…”.

The junta is already known for nepotism, so it may well sweep this case aside.

But think a bit about this and the double standards involved.

For all of the bleating about this case being “highly sensitive,” important for fighting “corruption,” for the “reputation” of the NACC and so on, all the charges against Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban were dropped on the basis that they had no case to answer. They ordered attacks on red shirts that resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries.

Updated: Intimidation intensifies

27 04 2016

The military dictatorship appears to have moved into a period of even deeper repression and intimidation. Part of this has to do with the fear of Thaksin Shinawatra. Some of it has to do with the junta cracking down on widespread opposition to it charter and its anti-democratic intent. And there may be other motivations that have to do with junta fears.

We can’t post on all of the reports of this new and deepening intimidation. Rather, we provide a listing of recent reports. It quite a list over just a week. The pattern is clear. As Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk stated that a “climate of fear” is “growing in the country ahead of the referendum.” He added that the “junta is mobilising state machinery and everything is being used to promote the draft constitution while people who oppose the draft are being targeted…”.

In fact, as we will show below, as bad as this is, in fact, the intimidation is broader than this.

The junta has threatened Bencharat Sae Chua, a lecturer of Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies. The lecturer is distributing information for a vote against the military’s draft charter has been threatened with Section 61 of the Referendum Act of 2016. This could mean up to 10 years in jail.

Puea Thai Party members have been targeted. It is reported that some 300 police and soldiers searched the homes of two politicians among others in Nakhon Sawan, accusing them of being “influential” figures. The military barred reporters from the houses they searched.

Earlier today it was reported that at least four people were abducted by the military in the early hours of the morning. Two men were abducted in Bangkok and two in Khon Kaen. The four are accused of being red shirts.

Within a couple of hours, the number abducted by the military rose to eight, with the military then saying they held 10 persons. Two of those abducted worked closely with red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan. Of the 10, eight were taken in Bangkok and two in Khon Kaen. The two in Khon Kaen were accused by the military of “belonging to the New Democracy Group and the Resistant Citizen Group led by Anon Kampa.”  Activists called for protests.

At least some of those arrested seem to have been subject to complaints by the hopelessly biased puppet Election Commission. It  filed its first charges under the new referendum law that criminalizes political commentary. The charges were against a Facebook group for posting “foul and strong” comments criticizing the military’s draft constitution. The puppet EC claimed that the Facebook page had used “aggressive, harsh and rude language to urge readers to vote against the draft constitution to be put to a public vote Aug 7.”

Earlier, it was reported that Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan stated that both the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and the red shirts were under investigation for “announcing their stands on the draft constitution.” So far we can find no evidence of action against the PDRC.

A couple of days ago, the military “indicted six activists for demanding an investigation into the Rajabhakti Park corruption scandal.” Those indicted are reported to be “Sirawit Serithiwat, a student activist from New Democracy Movement, Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer and core leader of Resistant Citizen, Kititach Suman, Wisarut Anupoonkarn, Koranok Kamda and Wijit Hanhaboon…”.

Last week, in Udon Thani, soldiers intimidated anti-mine activists ahead of a planned forum on the environmental effects of a potash mine in the province.

Around the same time, Watana Muangsook complained that “certain people pressured the Charoen Pokphand Company (CP), one of the biggest conglomerates in Asia run by the family of his former wife, to convince Weerada Muangsook, his daughter, to leave the country.”

In the south, the military has summoned the leader of a sea nomad community on Rawai Beach in Phuket, to a military camp. There he was intimidated by the military who accused of violating a junta order which gives almost absolute power to soldiers with the rank of sub-lieutenant upwards to maintain national security.

Update: Members of the Neo-Democracy Movement and the Resistant Citizen group organized a protest against the arrests at the Victory Monument.Police grabbed and detained 16 of the protesters at the Phaya Thai police station. They were detained for protesting by standing still in a group.

Demands on junta

27 04 2016

A joint statement has been issued on the constitutional referendum by an unusual group of 108 persons (105 in some reports) and five organizations. What is unusual is that the 108 includes persons from all sides of politics in the usually divided country. The group made four demands:

1. The referendum must be conducted in a free, transparent, and fair manner in accordance with international principles and standards.

2. In the process towards the referendum, there must be open and inclusive debates, participated by those who agree and disagree with the content of the draft constitution. Voters must have access to accurate, comprehensive, and thorough information on the draft constitution, as well as, a safe and public space to voice their disagreements under the laws.

3. People have legitimate rights to freedom of expression and to voice their opinions constructively on the draft constitution which is the highest law of the country. Such basic political rights which shall be protected. Suppression on people’s rights to express their views on the draft constitution by using measures related to security, including taking people to detention in the name of attitude adjustment is not only a violation of basic human rights, but also delegitimises the referendum process as a whole.

4. Before the referendum is conducted, there must be clearly defined options for what happens in case the draft constitution does not pass the referendum, in order to reach a consensus on a constitution agreeable to all sides. People of all groups and all sides must be able to debate and to propose these options freely and constructively.

While the statement and its demands challenge the junta, it does appear to accept the notion that a referendum can be held to complete a process that has been illegitimate from the beginning.

The group read its statement to the public “despite Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon’s warning ahead of the announcement that such a move would break the referendum law.”

Jokers and dictators

26 04 2016

A couple of times in the recent past we have mentioned that the military junta has a habit of making its “spokesmen” sound like stand-up comics.

Because the various members of the junta come up with such ridiculous claims and suffers such pathetic meltdowns, these untrained mouthpieces have to devise ways to “explain” the nonsensical bile and ludicrous claims. The result is often very much like a stand-up comic who fails. All he can hear can only hear is crickets chirping.

DeerThe most recent example is on the Thaksin Shinawatra and the junta’s deer-in-headlights claims that he is behind anti-coup, anti-junta and anti-charter activism. It was Thaksin, they said, who was paying lobbyists to spread bad news about the junta and its work.

The Democrat Party was strong in its support if the junta’s claims.

As we showed – along with many others – the so-called evidence actually supported Thaksin’s statements that he wasn’t using lobbyists against the junta.

At the time, we also stated that we were pretty sure that the Democrat Party’s and the junta’s “evidence” was probably emanating American right-wing conspiracy theorists working for and with yellow shirts.

In a comical report at Khaosod, dumpy Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan seems to point in this direction, saying “the alleged evidence” that “exposed Thaksin’s link to the lobbyists” is from “foreign media.” Perhaps he reads New Eastern Outlook when he’s in Russia. Prawit was defending The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha: “He spoke based on the information that foreigners published…. He didn’t come up with it on his own. Foreign media wrote about it.”

This is where the junta spokesmen come in. Junta spokesman Piyapong Klinpan “explained” it, “We have already collected some documents, but it’s just we cannot disclose them at the moment…”.

Hilarious, yes indeed. Hilarious in the sense that the junta thinks anyone will believe them. Or, maybe, there is a group of rabid yellow shirts who feed on this kind of nonsense.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 189 other followers