Updated: A remarkable capacity for protecting the rich and powerful

4 04 2018

Khaosod reports that “[r]egional prosecutors dropped five of 11 charges including animal cruelty filed against Italian-Thai Development President Premchai Karnasuta, but will seek to prosecute him on the other six counts.”

Glass half-full you might think. Perhaps not. In Thailand’s legal system there are many ways in which the rich and powerful get out of unexpected judicial dealings – they never expect to be arrested and charged.

One tried and trusted method is to drag out proceedings, sometimes over years and years. All along, the rich/powerful person remains on bail and seeks to have charges dropped, eliminate those testifying against them, pay off victims and/or bribe police, prosecutors and/or judges.

We see some of this in Premchai’s case. He’s trying to wait out the interest in the case. Media and activist interest will, he hopes, eventually, die down. When the case is no longer high profile, he hopes he can quietly settle the case.

In Premchai’s case, the charges dropped were “that he entered the sanctuary without permission with guns and ammunition and committed animal cruelty.”

Double standards? You bet.

Update: According to Thai PBS, police have “objected” to the dropping of the five charges. But not all it seems, as the police want nine charges, while saying “its up to the prosecutor.” It can all be a part of negotiations complicated by the current high-profile case. Or it could be political theater.





The impunity trail

19 03 2018

The efforts of activists have seen some charges brought against fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoon and Black Leopard soup-loving Premchai Karnasuta. Of course, this is only a small step in the legal process, and we can expect to see delays, charge shedding and more as the police do deals that may still result in impunity.

That other scion of the fabulously wealthy – this time the Red Bull/Yoovidhya family – seems to have literally gotten away with murder.

It is reported that Interpol’s so-called Red Notice – a worldwide request to find and arrest an individual pending an extradition – for Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya”has disappeared from the Interpol website.”

It was unclear when the notice went missing “… [b]ut there was immediate speculation that powerful interests had intervened on Mr Vorayuth’s behalf.” The notice was on the Interpol website until recently, although a recent search produced no listing for Thailand in either red or yellow notices. We wondered if Thailand had changed its policy, but the report states: “Pol Col Kritsana [Pattanachareon ] confirmed that Thai police had not sought a change from ‘public’ to ‘restricted’ status for the notice.”

Interpol stated that:

… a published notice would be removed from its website if “the suspect has been arrested and extradited or died, the country which requested it has withdrawn its request, the judicial authorities in the country behind the notice have withdrawn the national arrest warrant against a suspect, the notice is the subject of an appeal, or the notice has been cancelled or the status of the notice has changed from public to restricted”.

As usual, Thai police dissembled: “Thai police spokesman Kritsana Pattanachareon said on Thursday Thai police had no idea why the notice was no longer there.” Kritsana continued (do compare with what Interpol says): “It’s entirely up to Interpol. We can’t intervene because each country has different laws…”. Buffalo manure piled high. Rich person free. Impunity rules.





Whitewashing and covering up

12 03 2018

Keeping General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury watches out of the front pages, Italian-Thai Development boss and wildlife pilferer and jungle food connoisseur Premchai Karnasuta is filling the headlines.

Former editor of the Bangkok Post Veera Prateepchaikul is reflecting a widespread angst regarding Premchai’s cases when he says there’s no surprise that deputy national police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul has been vilified for seeming to find excuses for allowing Premchai off some of his hooks.

Pol Gen Srivara is overseeing the investigation into the illegal hunting case against the four members of Mr Premchai’s group, with Mr Premchai being the main suspect. The others include a female cook, a hunting guide and a close aide of Mr Premchai. But the way in which he has handled the case from the beginning leaves much to be desired.

Pol Gen Srivara seems adept at finding excuses fro Premchai while preparing the public for the expected whitewashing of Premchai.

No surprises at all. Where’s that Red Bull cop killer? Where’s the case meant to “investigate” the murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae? Where’s the case against corrupt cop Somyos Pumpanmuang? We could go on and on.

The police are available for hire by the wealthy and kowtow to the powerful. They are paid handsomely for their service.





Erasing the black leopard

5 03 2018

Boss of of Italian-Thai Premchai Karnasuta 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 something of 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.

At the time, the press said he could face up to 28 years in jail. We said, let’s see, adding that like many of the big shots who get caught up in legal cases, the initial risk is that the case will be delayed and then go quiet.

For a while, it has been very quiet. Such quietness suggests wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes. The next news was that policeman involved in the case were being “disciplined.” Such transfers are also usually a sure sign of deals being done.

No doubt feeling more confident following all of the “negotiations,” Premchai finally appeared at a police station. That police station was Thong Pha Phum in Kanchanaburi province, some 250 km and a 3.5 hour drive from Bangkok. Who else took that journey? Reports, video and pictures show that Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul made the trip and “had a brief talk with Mr Premchai.”

If anyone was looking for evidence of how the behind-the-scenes dealing was being done, surely this was evidence of collusion. If not collusion with the highest levels of police, then it is evidence of others even more senior sending messages to an “underling” deputy national police chief. This is wheeling and dealing at the very highest level.

Then video emerged of the meeting between the tycoon and the deputy national police chief.

The clip shows Premchai initially wai-ing Pol Gen Srivara a wai. Srivara returns the wai, but “a few seconds later he repeated it by bowing low to Mr Premchai.” This gesture shows a junior giving respect to a senior. In other words, it is a display of a supplicant. Social media users were amazed and many pointed to this as yet another display of double standards in the legal system.

Further suggesting that Premchai has done some deals at very high levels, graffiti art of black leopards – one of Premchai’s hunted animals – appearing in Bangkok is being erased. Erasure demonstrates high-level collusion with the wealthy animal slaughterer.





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: Another rich crook disappears

13 02 2018

In a post when the poaching case of Italian-Thai construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta came to light, PPT commented that we know, from bitter experience, that rich people get away with much in Thailand. We added that the notorious 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.

We reckoned that illegal hunter Premchai’s case was something of a test for the junta’s (in)justice system.

Looks like the system might have failed within just a few days. As charges pile up, it seems that the police have lost Premchai. A Bangkok Post report states:

Pol Maj Gen Krisana Sapdej, deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 7, said officials of the Western Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary filed the complaint of animal cruelty on Monday.

As the whereabouts of Mr Premchai, president of Italian-Thai Development Plc, were not known, police would send a summons this week for him to report and acknowledge the new charge, he said.

More great police work.

Readers might like to delve into the Italian-Thai corporate website and Premchai a little. The company’s website has material on corporate social responsibility, ethics, environmental concerns and more.

Premchai seems in breach of all of them. We also downloaded the 2016 annual report. There, Premchai is listed as a director of dozens of companies in Thailand and overseas. Presumably he’s in breach of ethical requirements for many of these as well.

Update: Further on ethics and environmental practices, deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is reported as saying that Premchai and his companies “might have encroached on forest land.” The police say Premchai “owns 147 plots totalling 6,215 rai of land through C.P.K. International Co Ltd in the form of Nor Sor 3 Kor land rights documents” in the upper northeast. Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Premchai’s ethics revolve around self-centered profit making, at any cost.





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…”.





Thailand and Burma

22 02 2013

Readers of PPT from way back will recall that we sometimes posted on the “let’s-move-our-pollution” Dawei investment project by well-connected and royal-linked Thai industrial developers congregated around Italian-Thai and its boss Premchai Karnasuta. A recent post with back links was here.

Those following this story will find a recent report at The Irrawaddy of interest. It says, amongst other things:

The Burmese government had clearly gone cold on Dawei—which is closer to Bangkok than Rangoon by 300 km—when it refused to approve a huge 4,000 megawatt coal-fueled electricity generating plant at the site for ITD back in February 2012.

By then, Chinese government money was already building an oil transhipment terminal on the central coast at Kyaukphyu, another sleepy Burmese seaside town where gas from the Shwe field out in the Bay of Bengal will also come ashore….

“The fundamental problem with the Dawei project is that its main beneficiary is always going to be Bangkok,” regional energy industries analyst-consultant Collin Reynolds told The Irrawaddy on Feb. 19. “The Thais want it primarily as a crude oil transhipment point much the same as the Chinese are achieving with their Kyaukphyu set up.

“Thailand also sees Dawei as a place where it could expand its petrochemicals industry, which is stymied on the edge of Bangkok because of environmental and health concerns.





Looking west (or north)

15 01 2011

There’s a long and interesting article on the developmental prospects for Tavoy/Dawei in Burma in The Irrawaddy, authored by Htet Aung, that readers might like to link with our earlier post on this project here, here and here.

Tavoy today

The article is about Burma “seeking to become Asia’s next miracle economy by establishing a special economic zone (SEZ) in the southern port city of Tavoy.” That’s the  US$8 billion Thai invested project discussed in our earlier posts. The model is said to be “Shenzhen, the first SEZ created as part of Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s sweeping economic reforms in the late 1970s.”

The project is said to go back to a memorandum of understanding signed in May 2008, Samak Sundaravej was prime minister of a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra government. However, the first real step was in November 2010, when “Burma’s ruling military regime reached a final agreement with Italian-Thai Development PCL, the Bangkok-based company that was awarded the contract to carry out the project.” The article cites Italian-Thai president Premchai Karnasuta saying that Burma’s military leader “Than Shwe said he wanted this project to be like the Shenzhen economic zone…”.

The article questions the viability of the project on several grounds, and those interested will find these arguments in the article. One of the interesting points made is that Premchai argues that “if Burma’s generals want to see a China-like economic success at home, they will have to take bold step to change the current economic management of the country…”.

Of course, Tavoy/Dawei is going to be heavily dependent on Thailand, and not just for investment. The article suggests that “the chief beneficiary of the Tavoy SEZ could end up being Thailand itself. A dual railway and highway link between Bangkok and Tavoy would increase the importance of the Thai capital in facilitating trade in the Mekong region, while plans to build an oil refinery and coal-powered electricity generating plant in Tavoy would ease environmental pressures on Thailand’s heavily industrialized Eastern Seaboard.” In addition, during the construction phase, because of Burma’s dearth of skilled labor and professionals, many of these positions will “likely be filled by Thais or other foreigners, while Burmese will do most of the unskilled work. Indeed, the abundance of cheap Burmese labor is one of the main attractions for Italian-Thai…”.

A Greenpeace photo of a Map Tha Put protest

One of the main attractions, mentioned above is that Burma may well become a base for dirty Thai industry:

The factories that Italian-Thai will build in Tavoy SEZ include a steel mill, a fertilizer factory, a 4,000 MW coal-fired power plant and a petrochemical complex, including oil and gas storage facilities, an oil refinery, a gas separation plant and a combined cycle power plant.

In Thailand, there has been significant resistance to the construction of such factories on the grounds that they are known to cause a wide variety of serious environmental and health problems. Rather than address these concerns, however, Thai companies now see the Tavoy SEZ as way of avoiding them.

“By moving to Burma, [Thai companies] can leave behind the environmental problems of Map Ta Phut and Rayong courts,” said a recent editorial in The Bangkok Post.

Even Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has acknowledged this as a major consideration behind the decision to move to Tavoy. “Some industries are not suitable to be located in Thailand. This is why they decided to set up there,” he said in a recent television address.

Tavoy tomorrow?

Finally, the article raise the specter of forced relocation, a task that has always been handled poorly in Thailand and abominably in Burma. It is estimated that some 3,800 households will be relocated. In the past, the Burmese army has “helped out” on relocation. If that happens again, expect condemnation of Italian-Thai.





Abhisit, Italian-Thai and Burma

13 10 2010

Yesterday, PPT posted some brief comments on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s one-day visit with the Burmese military regime, with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha along also. There he met met with Burmese leaders including Senior General Than Shwe.

In our post we commented on the fact that Abhisit is often said to be less comfortable with the situation in Burma. We added that this alleged discomfort didn’t stop Abhisit visiting and seeking deals with the military leadership.

Bangkok Pundit writes on this also and points to a Reuters story about the major deal that Abhisit apparently went to Burma to conclude with its military government. In that story, Reuters states that “Thailand’s top construction contractor, Italian-Thai Development Pcl (ITD.BK), said on Thursday it expected sign a contract for a deep-sea port project with Myanmar Port Authority by the end of November. The Dawei port project, with an estimated value of about 400 billion baht ($13 billion), will include a railway, roads, industrial estates, a refinery and a steel mill, senior executive Nijaporn Charanachitta told reporters.”

A deal of US$13 billion is huge for a company with paid-up capital of less than 5 billion baht  and assets of less than 38 billion baht (in its 2009 Annual Report). That Report says this about its hopes and plans: “The potential incoming projects for the year 2010 are the mega-projects of the government, especially the mass rapid transit projects, the railway double track projects, and the other infrastructure construction projects to stimulate the economy and employment. The Company also plans to expand its overseas business; for example the design and construction of a highway in Laos PDR and in Malaysia, the port and infrastructure projects in Myanmar, the residential construction projects in Bahrain and Libya, the infrastructure projects in Madagascar, the elevated highways in India and Bangladesh, the infrastructure construction for aluminum mining in Laos PDR, the coal mining and power plant in Myanmar, the airport renovation project of the Bangalore Airport in India, and the mass rapid transit system project of Chennai city in India. The increasing of investment projects both inside and outside Thailand is the sign of the strong growth of the construction service business, which will benefit the Company in the incoming year.”

Premchai

Premchai Karnasuta, the boss of the firm and its major shareholder (see SET data) is listed in Forbes as Thailand’s 29th richest person, worth about US$220 million. For a little gossip on him, see here. Through the major owners in the Karnasuta family and Charanachitta families, Italthai is another major and related venture with interlocked directorates and shareholdings as well as inter-marriage. Premchai’s sister, Nijaporn Charanachitta is listed by Forbes as the 28th richest in Thailand, with $230 million. She chairs the Oriental Hotel and the Amari Group. Together the siblings control 30% of Italian-Thai. Considered as a family, they would rank in the top 15 in a list of wealthy non-royals in Thailand.

So when Bangkok Pundit says “ITD are a very well-connected company,” that is something of an understatement. According to some reports, their links are to well-connected palace types as well as Thaksin Shinawatra and Sondhi Limthongkul (when he was still a Thaksin fan). But 2002 seems a long way in the past now and political allegiances have split apart.

PPT readers are welcome to send any further links they have on the company and its owners.








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