Watching and waiting

23 02 2018

In the land of the military dictatorship, double standards are the guiding principle when it comes to law. While there were similar patterns seen in the past, it needs to be remembered that the junta seized the state in the 2014 coup and expelled an elected government publicly trumpeting the need for reform, its opposition to corruption and rule of law.

Of course, some seasoned observers knew from bitter experience that all of this was bluster and it wouldn’t be long before the nepotism, corruption, impunity and the double standards that are definitional of military regimes were seen.

While many of the junta’s anti-democrat put up with early examples of corruption (such as Rajabhakti Park) and were prepared to turn a blind eye to lese majeste repression, murder (what has happened to the evidence associated with the Chaiyapoom Pasae case?), censorship and political repression, a range of issues have seen even diehard yellow shirts turning away from the junta. These issues include: the election “delay,” double standards in the law and the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches.

On the latter, many will be stunned to read that the National Anti-Corruption Commission continues to delay on its investigation. The NACC says that it will (again) “write to Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon in the next few days, demanding he provide specific details on how he acquired 25 luxury watches…”.

We count at least three previous letters asking for the same information.

NACC president Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, himself polluted by his relationship to the Deputy Dictator, said the “deputy premier will be asked to furnish precise details of the watches exposed in recent news reports, including the brand names, price tags and dates he wore them…”.

What did the previous letters ask for? Did they not ask for such details? If not, why not? Pol Gen Watcharapol must explain this.

The NACC has given Gen Prawit another 15 days to respond. All the other deadlines, like “election” promises, have simply been ignored.

The article suggest that Gen Prawit is not fully cooperating with the NACC. That may be so, but why is the NACC cooperating with Prawit?

On an “investigation” that the NACC recently said would be wrapped up by the end of February, Pol Gen Watcharapol now says the “issue will be clearer [next month]…”.

Unremarkably, Pol Gen Watcharapol said “the deputy premier has informed the NACC he was too busy with his duties” and that Prawit “may need some time to gather the information as some of the watches were worn a long time ago … adding he did not suspect Gen Prawit was deliberately stalling.”

It sounds like collusion and a cover up to us.

Another case that is defining of double standards is that of leopard killing and eating tycoon Premchai Karnasuta of Italian-Thai Development and dozens of other companies. Not that long ago we posted on his seeming disappearance despite ongoing investigations of his illegal hunting.

Police have now issued a second summons to Premchai and other members of his hunting party “inviting him to answer additional charges of cruelty to animals…”. All had failed to respond to the first summons. His lawyer didn’t even bother to provide a particular reason for his client’s failure to appear.

Not showing up to answer a summons is not uncommon, but this is a high-profile case and we well recall the way poor farmers were mistreated under the same laws. Not that long ago a couple of farmers were arrested by police and quickly sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced by half because they had confessed. Their “crime” was picking mushrooms from a protected forest. They did not shoot and eat  endangered animals. But the law works differently for the rich.

And so it goes on and on….





Updated: Defining the junta by its double standards

21 02 2018

One of the defining characteristics of this military regime has been its double standards.

While the temporary cessation of the planned coal-fired power station in the south is good news for the environment and represents a victory of sorts for the local villagers and supporting activists, this outcome demonstrates the regime’s embedded double standards.

The Dictator has urged “calm after the government decided to put the contentious projects on hold.” Not that long ago, the junta was arresting anti-coal protesters. These protesters have by and large been junta supporters. The junta’s actions against them were a serious splintering of the pro-junta and anti-democrat side.

It may be coincidental, but as the pressure has mounted on the junta from activists it identifies as opponents, the pressure on the anti-coal activists has gone and the junta is bending over backwards to be seen to be meeting their demands and end their Bangkok protest that has lasted more than three weeks.

Indeed, the most recent concession has been to order a fresh environmental impact assessment and to drop all law suits (well, “suspend” the legal actions).

That backdown by the junta was made politically symbolic when Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan sat on the sidewalk with protesters after a court refused a police request to ban the assembly.

The political outcome was the protesters packed up and returned to their homes in the south.

Such a harmonious outcome is impossible when it comes to pro-election activists. The double standards are obvious. One side can protest for weeks. The other side sees police charges.

A second set of double standards is within the junta itself. As everyone knows, the Deputy Dictator has been caught out flashing luxury watches all over the place. Despite the case having been taken on by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, it has all gone quiet. The Dictator has refused to abandon his old boss and elder military brother.

Rather, he’s supported Gen Prawit. When Totrakul Yomnak, chairman of a junta sub-committee against corruption, a puppet committee, sent Gen Prayuth Chan-och “a letter expressing concern about the watch scandal,”and imploring the military “prime minister to take action and show his determination to address graft, which he [Prayuth] has declared a top priority.”

Prayuth “lashed out” and said leave it to the (quiet, compromised and slow) NACC.

Double standards define the regime.

Update: We have noticed on social media a strong rumor that Totrakul is said to have been told by “someone” to attack Prayuth. We haven’t seen anyone naming a name, but the assumption seems to be that the old meddler Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is the one. He’s long talked about corruption as a threat to the nation. If there is a Prem-initiated move against Prayuth, we can’t wait to see who is anointed to replace The Dictator.

Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai, making our point point on double standards on protesters, the military has filed charges against six participants in a pro-election rally at Chiang Mai University “for violating the junta’s ban on public assembly.” The six face up to six months in prison and fine up to 10,000 baht.

They did, anti-coal protesters didn’t. This six face court, the anti-coal protesters met a minister who came to them. The picture is crystal clear.





Unraveling

14 02 2018

As tensions rise, the military dictatorship appears to be unraveling while also threatening more dangerous responses.

One part of the unraveling involves the junta’s cabinet. The Dictator has had to be hosing down unguarded (?) comments by Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin who criticized Thailand’s politicians and bureaucrats as lacking ethics. In particular, he singled out the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan for failing to step down over his still unexplained collection of luxury watches.

Teerakiat is one of the few not military members of cabinet, so he’s something of an outsider. He’s a medical doctor who

received an MD from the Chulalongkorn University, Thailand and is a member of the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK. He is a Director of Centre for Educational Psychology, Foundation of Virtuous Youth, supported by the Crown Property Bureau….

We wonder who he’s close to in the crown arena. And, as he’s not a dumb, we are guessing that his going out on a political limb must have some upper level support.

Previous unraveling military regimes teach us that it is in these circumstances that they can become dangerous.

While Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is trying to patch up his cabinet, Prachatai tells us that his junta thugs are picking off activists emerging in the provinces, seeking to squeeze off demonstrations of opposition.

The Dictator has also been expressing his frustration and indicating that he is dangerous. He has vowed to “get tough on political agitators, saying all people must be subject to the law.” He added: “Laws are laws. They must be enforced equally…”.

He means everyone except the junta, the murderous military and other junta thugs and the corrupt.

Playing dumb, Prayuth criticized those calling for an election. He said: “I do not know what they want…. They’re trying to take the country backwards … and the government cannot condone it.”

He knows that the protesters are demanding that he stick to his promise of a (rigged) election this year.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a desperate general watching his regime unravel.





Updated: Watching and waiting

10 02 2018

On one watch front, the luxury front – the news is… well, no news. The Nation reports that National Anti-Corruption Commission President Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit declared that the NACC’s “secretary-general has not yet updated the corruption-fighting body about whether Deputy PM [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan has submitted his third try at an explanation about his possession of luxury watches.” Is he getting coaching? Probably not. Neither The Dictator or the Deputy Dictator believe that laws apply to them.

The other thing to watch is is the so-called MBK39. The junta got a legal slap when the the courts unconditionally released them. Four of the activists, named below, did not front the police and courts. That said the charges of “violating the public assembly and internal security laws, as well as the junta’s order on political gatherings” remain in place and could see a penalty of 7 years in jail. The laws include a charge of assembling within 150 meters of a royal palace (Sirindhorn’s). In effect, this “law” bans public gatherings in several of the locations where anti-government protests have been ignited in the past and is one more piece in the return to pre-1932 jigsaw and the deification of royals and their spaces.

The thing to watch is a a pro-election assembly this afternoon Bangkok time. It is reported that “[a]ctivists Rangsiman Rome, Sirawit Serithiwat, Ekachai Hongkangwan and lawyer Anon Nampa … would be attending the event to be held near Democracy Monument at 4pm.”

The police have said “they would immediately arrest the four when they showed up at today’s event” using warrants from the previous case against them.

Akechai said: “Why not go? … The court’s rejection to detain [activists from the] January 27 assembly has already proved that this kind of assembly is rightful by law.”

Update: Akechai didn’t get a chance to go. Junta thugs arrested him early on Saturday morning, and took him to Lat Phrao police station and then to Pathumwan police station. He seemed unfazed by the arrest; it is kind of “normal” under the dictatorship.

How’s that “democracy” looking to you Gen Joseph F Dunford?





Election (and) time and “deadlines”

8 02 2018

The general election will take place after all election-related laws are promulgated. That’s the word from The Dictator. But don’t ask him when that will be. Unbelievably, not least because the laws are all being considered by handpicked junta hacks and cronies, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is now coy on a date. Are we the only ones who think this is a political strategy by the junta to hold onto power for as long as possible.

This non-announcement came as Prayuth campaigned for his junta in Chanthaburi.

The various puppet assemblies are now engaged on such minutiae that it seems that the National Legislative Assembly and the Constitution Drafting Committee are seeking to make decisions about the most insignificant matters.

Delaying tactics and no deadline.

The other deadline, according to the Bangkok Post is for Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan “to submit a third statement explaining all the luxury watches spotted on his wrist expires Wednesday…”. A third explanation? Another delaying tactic, this time by the seemingly corrupt National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The NACC is said to have written to Gen Prawit on 24 January “asking him to explain the watches but has so far received no response from the deputy premier.” We thought they had written to him in December when the scandal broke.

The NACC claims it has “interviewed four people reportedly linked to the watches and received good cooperation.” It says it will complete its investigation by the end of the month. That sounds like a deadline.

We can hardly wait.





Update: A case to watch

7 02 2018

Back in May 2017, there was some media attention to this story:

How does justice work for the poor? Here’s an example:

KALASIN — A middle-aged couple appealing harsh punishment for picking mushrooms from a protected forest had their sentences reduced by 10 years by the Supreme Court on Tuesday

Udom Sirisorn and Daeng Sirisorn, 54 and 51 respectively, were handed down reduced sentences of five years by a court in Kalasin province, seven years after they were first convicted of illegal logging there.

In July, 2010, the couple had gone into Kalasin’s Dong Radaeng Forest to collect wild mushrooms for cooking. They were arrested by police and quickly sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced by half because they had confessed.

They first appealed in 2014 but a court upheld their original sentences, and the couple served 17 months in jail before being freed on bail. The controversial sentences for the couple spawned a campaign calling for their release online and complaints about the nation’s double-standard justice system.

Yes,in a case that went back to 2010, two very poor farmers were sentenced to 30 years! They served almost a year and a half before being freed on bail.

As we know from bitter experience, rich people get away with much in Thailand. And the poor get jailed. The Red Bull case is just one of many that shows that wealth can buy much and that connections to the powerful and the paying off of officials begets impunity.

This makes the poaching case of construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta so interesting and a test for the junta’s (in)justice system.

Boss of of Italian-Thai is a big deal in the business world, with impeccable connections (read his CV). For a while he was listed in the Forbes richest 50 for Thailand.

He’s used to getting his way and when he was caught red-handed poaching wildlife in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary, it was a surprise. It was certainly a surprise for him as he’d have thought all his connections would have prevented any authorities getting too interested in his illegal hunting. Perhaps he’s annoyed someone.

The press says he “could face a maximum of 28 years in jail if he is found guilty…”. Let’s see. Like many of these big shots who get caught up, the initial risk is that the case will be delayed and then go quiet. That’s the cover-up even if he was caught with gun in hand and animal corpses all around him.

Remarkably, he and his three employees have denied the charges.

Premchai then lied to reporters saying he went to the wildlife sanctuary “for leisure.” His lawyer said “he was not worried about the case as Mr Premchai had nothing to do with the alleged hunting.”

That must mean the rare animals committed suicide. But this is all a part of getting off. A ridiculous story never seems to bother the rich or the authorities. Premchai probably reckons a “deal” can be done.

Plenty of officials seem to have been involved and he may have even had “permission,” and the denials that he was a VIP guest are so strident they sound fake. The impetus for a cover-up is thus even greater.

Thungyai Naresuan  has “been notorious for decades as an area where rich and powerful people enjoy poaching and game hunting.”

The case brings back memories of the hunting scandal in 1973 that led tothe then military regime losing its remaining credibility and fed into the uprising against it. Veera Prateepchaikul recalls this event.

We can only wonder if the rich will again laugh off and/or buy off the justice system.

Update: Is it a coincidence that a seemingly bogus website claiming to support Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is also about protecting forests? It says: “General Prawit Wongsuwan loves, protects and takes care of forests. That’s why we love General Prawit Wongsuwan…”.





Further updated: More junta corruption

6 02 2018

Long-time readers will know that PPT has had considerable commentary on former police chief General  Somyos Pumpanmuang.

Much of that commentary had to do with corruption. General Somyos is now head of the Thailand Football Association,  where he claims to be battling corruption involving match-fixing. What a joke. The fox is in charge of the chickens. Somyos had long and arguably corrupt business relationships with mining companies, and at the time of his retirement as Thailand’s top cop, was one of its wealthiest policemen. Somyos was known to have ordered police to support companies he had previously worked with. He was so wealthy that he gave rewards to cops out of his own bag of money.

Now General Somyos tells Thailand that  “he had borrowed a huge sum of money from the fugitive owner of the Victoria’s Secret Massage brothel, Kampol Wirathepsuporn.”

PPT noted this relationship in mid-January, with photos.

Pol Gen Somyos says Kampol and he “were friends and the latter loaned him money on several occasions.” How much? Somyos says “about 300 million baht changed hands between them.”

That’s about 10 times more than the “borrowed” watches that General Prawit Wongsuwan claims to have had from “friends.”

Like the Deputy Dictator, Somyos “explains” that he and the massage parlor owner are “friends and of course friends do help each other. I was in trouble and asked him for help several times.”

We can only wonder what “help” Pol Gen Somyos provided for his friend.

At the same time, we can only remain puzzled as to how a man who reported assets of 375 million baht back in 2014 got that money and how he was still able to borrow 300 million from a flesh trader.

It should be noticed that none of the civil and military bureaucrats who have served the junta were almost all “unusually wealthy.”

Update 1: A reader thinks we should not be calling this case “junta corruption.” We disagree. Reporting has made it clear that Somyos “borrowed” these huge sums when he was police chief, working for the junta.

Update 2: Soonruth Bunyamanee is a deputy editor at the Bangkok Post and has a useful op-ed on this case. We agree with much that he says. However, we disagree with a couple of his points. To nitpick, we think it is a bit of a fudge to refer to this case as a reminder of how “deeply the patronage system is entrenched in Thai society.” In fact, this is another example of the deep corruption that underpins relationships between business and officials. More specifically, this is an example of how the police make money through the protection and shake-down rackets they run and how powerful businesses get more profits from the way these rackets are run. Almost all senior police become hugely wealthy from their positions and the manner in which they extract money. Of course, these relationships often become chummy or even “regularized.” One such “regularization” was seen in another case under the junta, where city police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn declared that the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc pays him 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser.” ThaiBev is controlled by one of Thailand’s richest, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. In the end, this instance of corruption was considered normal and not a crime.

The other nitpick we have is when Soonruth says, “it’s not wrong for Pol Gen Somyot to have the owner of a massage parlour as a friend.” We think this is wrong. According to reports on the case, this massage parlor was engaged in multiple illegal activities from paying off officials and police to stealing water and human trafficking. Why would any top cop want to be associated with such criminal activities? Of course, for the money!