Further updated: True, CP and the Abhisit government

30 03 2012

When the Democrat Party was the Army’s surrogate ruling political party it often alleged that business deals done by Thaksin Shinawatra and his various governments wreaked of cronyism. There was certainly some of that.

But of course, so does the Democrat Party smell on these things. Worse, it had an enormous credibility problem in its arranged marriage of coalition parties with yet another Army crony party,  Bhum Jai Thai. That party managed a range of crony relationships while in government. In order to stay in power, the Democrat Party was complicit in a range of cosy deals.

One that has recently come to light is reported at the Bangkok Post. In this report, Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap has intimated that:

True Corp’s 3G network deal with state-owned CAT Telecom has been found to have been tainted with irregularities which could result in the 6 billion baht agreement being scrapped….

The True-CAT network deal was signed during the Abhisit [Vejjajiva] administration, and through True’s purchase of  Hong Kong company Hutchison’s (Hutch) operations in Thailand, gave True the right to use the Hutch network and to aggressively market 3G wireless while “its major competitors _ Advanced Info Service (AIS) and Total Access Communication (Dtac) _ are still awaiting a decision on whether there will be a 3G licence auction this year.”

The ICT made “five points in its investigation of the True-CAT contract that raised questions about the legality and legitimacy of the deal” that were listed by Anudith:

First, the “panel found there had been an indirect political instruction on April 7, 2010” when former ICT minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee under Abhisit “for CAT to buy Hutch’s network in 25 provinces in the Central region from Hutch. Under a later ICT minister for the Abhisit government, Juti Krairiksh, the CAT-Hutch deal collapsed. “The collapse of the CAT-Hutch deal enabled True and CAT to enter quickly into a deal under a new business model drawn up by True and the state firm.” The contracts were “rapidly signed” on 26 January 2011.

Second, “CAT had bypassed the cabinet and the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) in terminating the CDMA mobile service in 25 central provinces with Hutch and its affiliate to enter into the new deal with True.”

Third, “CAT had violated the ICT Ministry’s work procedures in going ahead with the deal with True.”

Fourth, CAT didn’t consult the NESDB and the Council of State as required following “the go-ahead for its request to enter into a business deal with True on Dec 28, 2010.”

Fifth, CAT “asked the ICT to scrap the state enterprise’s original CDMA investment plan, and it switched to a new rental equipment agreement with True worth 12 billion baht.” It is stated that “CAT had no authority to enter into the new agreement. It could also be a violation of the 1992 Public-Private Joint Venture Act, which requires scrutiny of any public-private venture worth more than 1 billion baht.”

Not unexpectedly, True has “denied any wrongdoing.” The company’s vice-chairman Athueck Asvanund, said “the ICT report did not identify any specific points in the contract that violated the law.” he added: “The issues raised are political…”.

While PPT knows little about all the technical material, since the True representative raises “politics,” it is probably worth looking at this a little more.  At True’s website, the company describes itself in this manner:

Backed by Asia’s largest agro-conglomerate, the Charoen Pokphand Group (“CP”), with a shareholding of 30.02% as of December 2007, True has expanded its business from being a fixed-line provider to a total communications solutions provider, offering consumers, small and medium enterprises, and corporations a full range of voice, video and data services in solutions customized to meet their needs.  We are Thailand’s largest provider of Internet, consumer broadband Internet and pay-TV services, as well as the largest fixed-line service provider in the BMA, a leading online game provider and the number three mobile phone operator in Thailand.

True’s board, apart from being dominated by the Chearavanont family and a swathe of directors with long links to CP, includes some significant family names: Vejjajiva, Tulanonda and Srisa-an.

The Vejjajiva link is interesting, especially as Vitthaya Vejjajiva has a link to the Bangkok Post and projects like this one that brings together major royalist groups:

The project is advised by Visanu Krue-ngam (chairman), Borwornsak Uwanno, Tongthong Chandrangsu and Vitthaya Vejjajiva. It is sponsored by Bangkok Bank, the Central Group, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Jim Thompson, PTT, the Crown Property Bureau, Ch Karnchang Plc, Bangkok Expressway Plc and Thai Tap Water Plc.

True is part of the sprawling, patriarchal giant of a conglomerate known as CP, which at its website states it has:

businesses and affiliates operating within the agribusiness, retail and telecommunications markets, we currently employ over 250,000 people whom conduct our investments, operations and trading at factories and offices worldwide. Our sales at the end of 2010 were USD30 billion.

CP has three companies listed at the Stock Exchange of Thailand: True, Charoen Pokphand Foods and CP ALL. Directors at the latter two companies add to the significant names: Asa Sarasin is probably the most notable, as the king’s Principal Private Secretary, and mentioned in several Wikileaks cables around the time of the 2006 coup. Another is Police General Kowit Wattana, a Puea Thai big shot associated with the royalist Village Scout movement, who stepped down from CP when he became Deputy Prime Minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

The point is that CP is very well connected. Most of its links, Kowit not withstanding, are with the royal establishment. In line with this, one website notes this for Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, saying he:

… has served as a director and advisor for numerous large Thai companies. In early 2007, he resigned as chief adviser of the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group in order to distance himself from a junta-led corruption investigation. The investigation concerned alleged bid rigging in a para rubber saplings supply contract granted during the Thaksin government when Prem had still held his position in the Group.

The resignation refers to the case – eventually dismissed – that involved Thaksin Shinawatra minister Newin Chidchob, who had flipped his support to the Democrat Party in 2008.

In this political context, was the deal done by the Abhisit government an example of cronyism?

Update 1: A regular reader has sent us two links that seem highly relevant for this post- see here and here. That the king receives Dhanin Chearavanont and other CP executives who are handing over money to be used at the royal pleasure is significant the task of gathering the money is usually assigned to other members of the family. The recognition that Dhanin deserves an audience with the king is exceptional and carries great meaning. The royal news at ASTV is also worth watching as it is something of a record at almost 37 minutes and after the king, features the women of the court on royal travel and others doing their local duties.

In addition, that reader points out another potential link to our post in the recent Democrat Party attacks on Minister Anudith, seeking to have him investigated for “unusual wealth.” Is this a pre-emptive strike against the minister?

Update 2: Another regular reader points out that in listing the Vejjajiva connection with CP, we should have pointed out that Abhisit’s father, Athasit, is a board member at CP Foods (see link above).

SEAPA on health rumors and repression

7 11 2009

The International Freedom of Expression eXchange (6 November 2009: “Government directions on “rumor-mongering” growing out of proportion, says SEAPA”) has a statement posted from the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. SEAPA has “expressed its concern over a statement made by Information and Communication Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee threatening to pursue legal action against websites and their respective Internet service providers (ISPs) where posts discussing the King’s health allegedly caused the drop in the Thai bourse in October 2009.”

SEAPA continues, noting that “After failing to back up allegations of stock manipulation, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) is transforming its accusations to one premised generally on ‘rumor mongering’ affecting ‘national security’, with authorities now suspecting a conspiracy to spread false information…”.

Chavarong Limpattamapanee, vice president of the Thai Journalists Association and a SEAPA board member states: “The ICT Minister’s statement itself is a concern because MICT has no authority to close down any website or take actions against ISPs…”.

SEAPA observes that using the “Computer Crimes Act and national security to go against ‘rumor mongers’, the government has already sent a chilling message to the online community and Thais in general. Threats to crack down on ISPs hosting allegedly ‘subversive’ websites at the very least signal an irresponsible wielding of the Computer Crimes law.”

To conclude, SEAPA “calls on the MICT and other authorities to rethink their position on this issue, refrain from abusing the broad provisions of the Computer Crimes Act and desist from threatening citizens’ freedom of expression.”


Health rumors a ruse for closing web sites

4 11 2009

Also available as หาเรื่องปิดเว็บไซต์จากข่าวลือเรื่องพระพลานามัย

It is ever clearer that the  Democrat Party-led government is using the royal death and/or health rumors saga as a means to control or close moderate web sites that it feels are not pro-government.

Led by a prime minister who once tried to make people believe he was a political liberal and by a party that should be ashamed to include the word “democrat” in its name, the government has now played its hand.

In Prachatai (4 November 2009: “ICT to close ISPs for allowing offending websites to continue”), the Thai Rath newspaper is cited on a story about the Minister of Information and Communications Technology Ranongruk Suwunchawee, who has now explained that the “Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has told Internet Service Providers to deal with offending websites, saying if they fail to do so, the Ministry will close them.”

Who does the minister mean? It seems that “MICT has contacted the ISPs which provide services to the websites [Prachatai and Fah Diew Kan] and informed them that if they still allow these websites which have had records of being ‘subversive to national security’ to continue, the Ministry will close down those ISPs.” PPT added the emphasis but the names in square brackets are in the Prachatai report.

The rest of the report shows how this crackdown is being manipulated. The Minister explained that it was found that Thiranan Vipuchanun had indeed only posted a translation to the Prachatai webboard. However, Khatha Pachachirayapong, “was found to have posted the ‘inauspicious’ content on many websites, and forwarded it to his stock-brokering friends, of whom at least two people had further forwarded the message.” Apparently the authorities are seeking to use the Computer Crimes Act against these people as well.

This approach to “getting” web sites considered anti-government (translated as “threats to national security”) is confirmed in a Bangkok Post story.

The government and the press is now using this term “inauspicious” to describe the rumors, as if claiming the king is dead is somehow a crime. If it wasn’t so serious and being used as repression, one might be tempted to laugh along with Not the Nation or with Monty Python.

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government is ever more repressive in the name of “national security.” Where does it stop? Where are the defenders of human rights? Why are they allowing the royalist government to get away with such blatant repression?

More censorship, more repression

6 09 2009

Prachatai (6 September 2009: “NTC can punish ISPs for not blocking improper web pages: DSI”) reports on continued efforts by the Democrat Party-led government to censor.

According to the report the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) is “seeking more cooperation from relevant agencies and business groups to prevent inappropriate content on the internet. The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) says the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) is authorized to withdraw or suspend the licenses of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who do not cooperate in blocking inappropriate web pages.”

Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Ranongrak Suwanchawee, spoke at a “seminar on blocking inappropriate and illegal websites, saying that the Ministry would work more closely with the NTC which has the authority to provide licenses to ISPs and providers of internet gateway service.” The meeting was attended by “about 180 representatives of these companies and agencies.”

As PPT pointed out previously, there is a “normalization” of political repression going on under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – remember when he tried to convince people that he was a real liberal and democrat?

Given that the authorities have blocked thousands of URLs, what’s the problem? Readers of PPT will have already guessed. The minister pleaded: “The MICT alone cannot handle the blocking of the websites, because there must be various agencies working together and inappropriate websites, including those which are subversive to national security or the Nation, Religion and King, quickly spread on the internet.”

Minister Ranongrak says that the MICT has “set up the Operations Centre to Monitor the Threat of IT Crimes, concerned with issues of national security, and the Internet Security Operation Centre (ISOC), which has a hotline service … to receive information on inappropriate content on the internet from the public.” In addition, the Ministry “is also seeking cooperation from about 100 companies which provide internet-related services, the Thai Internet Association, the Thai Webmasters Association, the NTC, the police and the DSI to monitor and block inappropriate or illegal websites.”

Not surprizingly, the person in charge of the thought police is a police colonel. Suchart Wonganantachai, Deputy Director-General of the DSI and chair of the committee overseeing the blocking of websites. While he emphasized gambling sites, it is clear that  the bulk of sites blocked relate to the monarchy as 57.5% the blocked 18,390 web pages are considered as affecting national security. Less than 0.4% of blocked sites relate to gambling.

Colonel Suchart promised more support and more cooperation, especially in cracking down on ISPs. He also observed that proper censoring required “a filtering system” (on the Chinese model perhaps? – no, in fact the models are the US and Israel). This would require a budget of 100 million baht. “The DSI is now developing such a device, but the details cannot be revealed for now. He believed that the device would improve the effectiveness of the blocking by 90%.”

The celebration of censorship is remarkable. PPT expects that the self-proclaimed liberals and protectors of human rights in Thailand will continue to ignore the continual chipping away of liberties won through hard struggles in the not so distant past.

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