Reporting palace re-ordering

20 03 2017

The palace-based machinations that have seen dozens of officials sacked, ousted, jailed and promoted has been watched internationally for sign of how the king can be considered going forward, as a problem, a threat or something else.

The Straits Times reports that “[m]ore than 30 notices related to Thailand’s palace staff were made public on the Royal Gazette website last week, providing a rare window into the preferences of newly installed King…”.

These notices seem to have been hastily produced to allow the king to escape overseas to Germany for some rest from the hectic tasks of … well, we don’t know. He certainly hasn’t been pushing his pen across the signature line on the much delayed military constitution. Nor do we know officially why he is in Germany although this should be public given that he remains king and has not appointed a regent.

The notices issued were for “various dates and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also suggest that a shake-up has been taking place among palace staff.” The report continues:

One notice said that King Vajiralongkorn stripped an army major-colonel of his rank last month for “improper manner and behaviour” and “disputing royal observation”. In the same notice, the offending major-colonel [PPT doesn’t know this rank] was also described as “arrogant”, “negligent”, “insubordinate” and “lazy”.

Another commander was similarly stripped of her rank last month because she “did not improve herself, lacked enthusiasm, was idle and lacked correct judgment”.

At least four other officers were stripped of their ranks because they had been promoted twice in six months against the rules.

At the same time, royal decorations were handed out like candy at a children’s birthday party: “royal decorations were granted to 25 officers serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s royal guard unit, and privy councillor Kampanat Ruddit.”

The report notes that these “recent announcements come on the back of very public downfalls of some of the King’s senior aides” that saw a “grand chamberlain in charge of security and special affairs, Jumpol Manmai, … sacked for allegedly committing grave misconduct and having political interests deemed harmful to national security.” He’s now in an undisclosed jail that is likely the king’s personal jail.

Jumpol’s downfall was immediately preceded by that of “Chitpong Thongkum, an air vice-marshal who had served in the King’s bodyguard unit, was fired and stripped of all military ranks for reportedly stealing royal property and disclosing the King’s health records.” He’s in jail too.

The story goes on to report the secret dealings between the junta and the prince over the still languishing constitution. Perhaps both the king and the military junta have had second thoughts about the constitution and want it dead again. At least they now have a “plot” that can allow for further even delays.

As to how all this links to the goings-on in the palace, that’s anyone’s guess due to secrecy and threats of lese majeste.





Updated: Chitpong sentenced on lese majeste

4 03 2017

Embedded in a story on the now officially disgraced palace flunkey Jumpol Manmai, his wife and others, was a brief comment on the quick end to a lese majeste case also associated with the palace and the grumpy and vindictive King Vajiralongkorn.

Just a few days ago, we posted that Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, who served with the King’s bodyguard, had been sacked for alleged misconduct claimed to be damaging to the royal household.

chitpongChitpong was stripped of his military ranks and eight royal decorations for “offenses” that were said to include stealing royal property, disclosing the king’s personal health records and failing to report to duty. It was not entirely clear what he had done to send the king into a rage.

At the time, we said we guessed that means a lese majeste charge would follow.

They did. And in record time, Chitpong has been in court and sentenced to “five years and six months for lese majeste and four other charges including theft at a state office and violations of the Cosmetics Act. He was also fined Bt25,000.”

We guess this was a secret trial. [Update: it was in a military court.]

As is usually the case in all lese majeste cases and not just those involving kingly bile, Chitpong’s sentence was “reduced by half as Chitpong admitted all the charges before the court.” We guess he had no choice or he might have faced death in custody. His lese majeste sentence of five years was halved.

There is little information available on the case. Palace involvement, secret trials, forced guilty pleas and fear mean that those close to the king who get the boot are considered dangerous to report on and it is accepted that the king’s decisions, no matter how nasty can’t be adequately reported.

Update: A couple of wire stories on the case are now available. They are:

AFP, 4 March 2017: “Thai king’s former aide jailed for royal defamation

Reuters, 3 March 2017: “Thailand jails former palace aide for royal defamation

Both make the point that this case is one in a growing list of persons in the prince-now-king’s household who have been purged since late 2014.





Jumpol paraded

2 03 2017

In a recent post on former deputy national police chief Jumpol Manmai, once close to King Vajiralongkorn, and now dismissed from royal service we speculated on his forthcoming court appearance, we stated: We look forward to seeing him and whether, like earlier royal prisoners, has been shaved bald.

We said this because those who fall out with the king tend to have their heads shaved to shame them and then they spend a precarious existence in prison expecting to become a “death in custody” at any moment.

Sure enough, he was dragged out today, bald.jumpol-shaved

The Bangkok Post reports that “[p]olice on Thursday charged Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai, a former deputy police chief and Grand Chamberlain of the Bureau of the Royal Household, with forest encroachment in Nakhon Ratchasima province.”

The police stated that the “the suspect had confessed to the charges.” Of course he did, having been disappeared for a couple of weeks.

Reuters reported on the event that saw scores of reporters trying to provide coverage of the disgraced palace official.

Jumpol Manmai’s dismissal from the palace was one of the most prominent under King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has asserted his authority on several fronts since taking the throne in December following the death of his father.

Jumpol looked gaunt and tired as he arrived at the Crime Suppression Division in a grey T-shirt instead of his usual uniform and braid. His head had been shaved – a ritual humiliation for those who fall from grace with the palace.

We are not sure that the linking of “ritual” and”humiliation” is correct here. It is something that Vajiralongkorn does as he is a cruel and vindictive type.

Jumpol was fired for misconduct described by the palace as “extremely evil”. He abused his post for personal gain and his political interests threatened national security, it said.

He does not face charges related to those accusations, but to illegal private building on protected forest land in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. Four people are accused alongside him.

Neither Jumpol nor his lawyer made any comment to media.

Speculation in Thailand and on social media over Jumpol’s fate and whereabouts in recent days had been fuelled by the deaths in custody in 2015 of two men who had been accused of insulting the palace and abusing links to the monarchy….

Jumpol had served as intelligence chief under ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist movement’s confrontation with a conservative establishment elite has been behind more than a decade of turmoil in Thailand.

We now wonder if he will die in prison.





More on Jumpol and the palace

28 02 2017

This post is an update to our earlier one on earlier posts. A while ago we posted on the police investigating forest land encroachment in Thap Lan National Park allegedly committed by former deputy national police chief Jumpol Manmai who was a right-hand man of King Vajiralongkorn.

Since then, nothing official has been heard of Jumpol. On social media, it has been said that he has “disappeared” and others claim he has been murdered. Those rumors now seem highly dubious, although they may have played a role in finally getting Jumpol back into public view.

His re-entry was announced by the Royal Gazette sacking him and statements that he would be handed over to the police, presumably by the Royal Household Bureau and from one or other of the king’s palaces.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) police are to “bring in Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai, who was on Monday dismissed from his position as Grand Chamberlain of the Bureau of the Royal Household, for questioning Thursday.” We look forward to seeing him and whether, like earlier royal prisoners, has been shaved bald.

Police say “Jumpol is expected to be indicted at Nakhon Ratchasima provincial court on the same day as the questioning, said the same source.”

The Royal Household Bureau is reported to have alleged that “Jumpol also abused his position to seek personal gain and had a political bias which was deemed a threat to internal security and led to him being no longer trusted by the monarch…”.

For more background on the case, especially on the series of royal sackings and unexplained deaths of “suspects” in custody, Channel NewsAsia has details via AFP. We reproduce some of that below:

The fates of fallen royal aides are closely watched and widely gossipped upon by Thais.

That is because the royal family is protected by a draconian defamation law that makes scrutiny of its inner workings, or debate over its role, almost impossible inside the kingdom.

Media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the royal family.

Last week another senior aide to the king, Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, was sacked on the charge of improperly profiting from the family.

In 2015 three people – including a celebrity soothsayer – were arrested under the lese majeste law for trying to profit from their royal connections.

The soothsayer and one other suspect died in military custody soon after their arrests.

The year before, Vajiralongkorn announced that his then wife Princess Srirasmi Suwadee, with whom he has a son, had been stripped of her titles.

That came after half a dozen members of Srirasmi’s family were jailed on lese majeste charges for allegedly improperly using their connections to him.

 





More trouble in the palace

21 02 2017

A few days ago, PPT posted on the troubles facing Jumpol Manmai, a former deputy police commissioner and palace grand chamberlain.

Another palace official is in trouble, this time the incident is not so vague and he has clearly displeased the touchy king.

In yet another report that notes that “details of this article has been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law [lese majeste]…”, it is stated that “Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, who served in the King’s bodyguard unit,” has been “fired … for alleged misconduct damaging to the royal household.”

Chitpong was “also stripped of his military ranks and royal decorations” for “offenses include stealing royal property, disclosing [the king’s] personal health records and failing to report to duty as required.” He lost “the eight royal decorations he had [previously] received.”

We guess that means a lese majeste charge will follow.

The royal household announcement at the Royal Gazette continued:

[Chitpong] disobeyed his supervisors and conducted himself in a manner inappropriate for his rank and duty…. Furthermore, he slackened, neglected and skipped his duties. He conducted himself undeservingly of His Majesty’s trusts, doing grave damage to His Majesty’s Household.

The announcement did not “give specific details about Chitpong’s alleged wrongdoing.”

The report states that “Chitpong, as well as serving in King Vajiralongkorn’s bodyguard unit, worked as a physician and started his own health supplement company in November 2016, which he described in a video as a ‘direct sales’ business” called Richkarherbs and he “made references to suggest that [the king] personally approved of his organic health products.” The website for that company now says: “This account has been suspended. Either the domain has been overused, or the reseller ran out of resources.” There’s still a Facebook page as we write this post and a YouTube marketing video for the company’s business.

Another report adds that “Chitpong is the latest in a string of people close to Vajiralongkorn to have been publicly stripped of their titles or seen legal cases brought against them.” There have been dozens over the years, including now former consorts and their families.

Because the king is paranoiac, erratic and a narcissist, and because so many hangers-on seek to profit from the royal relationship, we would expect these events to remain regular for this palace.





More changes at the palace

30 01 2017

When the last king died, the palace was essentially in the administrative hands of a bunch of old men, many of them who had been around as long as the king himself.

When the prince became king, he moved some of the old men off the Privy Council and replaced them with serving military personal – serving mainly in the junta.

Some other changes are coming just because old guys are falling off the perch. Following the death of his twin brother Keokhwan in September 2016, the Bangkok Post reports that Grand Chamberlain Khwankeo Vajarodaya died at the age of 89 last Saturday, essentially of old age.

His funeral will be managed by the Bureau of the Royal Household, with the king assigning Privy Counselor Palakorn Suwanrath as the royal representative at the bathing rite. That seems a bit odd, given his brother has Princess Sirindhorn preside. In fact, the new king and the Vajarodyas have not always got on. Royal watcher Andrew MacGregor Marshall had this to say:

One of the most prominent families of palace officials is the Vajarodaya clan (the surname is sometimes transliterated as Watcharothai). The octogenarian family patriarch Kaeokhwan Vajarodaya was a childhood friend of King Bhumibol, and has been Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau since 1987. This means that — officially, at least — he is in charge of the sprawling palace bureaucracy of several thousand officials that manages royal affairs, but in fact, as a leaked U.S. cable noted in 2009, Kaeokhwan is senile, and for many years the Royal Household Bureau has been run by his sons Ratthanwut and Watcharakitti. Meanwhile, over the past two decades, Kaeokhwan’s nephew Disthorn Vajarodaya has become particularly close to Bhumibol. The same leaked U.S. cable named him in 2009 as one of the very few people in the king’s innermost circle of confidantes, and another cable describes him as a “well-known associate of the King”. Disthorn was chairman of the king’s Rajanukhrao Foundation and a Grand Chamberlain in the Royal Household Bureau. Over recent years he has usually been at Bhumibol’s side when the king makes his rare public appearances. He has become a familiar face to most Thais who have often seen him on royal news broadcasts, accompanying the king.

Last week, the Facebook page กูต้องได้ 100 ล้าน จากทักษิณแน่ๆ, which regularly shares leaked information from within the junta, published a copy of an extraordinary order from the crown prince. It stated that Disthorn Vajarodaya was instructed to attend a special training course so he could learn to perform his duties properly, and thereafter he would serve as a private page of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. He would be banned from ever again running any of the agencies in the Royal Household Bureau. A couple of days ago, a photograph was published on กูต้องได้ 100 ล้าน จากทักษิณแน่ๆ showing Disthorn and his cousins Ratthanwut and Watcharakitti apparently undergoing their special training — the three elderly men appear to be doing some kind of drill in military uniform, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

Vajiralongkorn clearly intends to publicly shame the three palace officials, and then continue to torment them indefinitely afterwards. Disthorn, for years one of the closest friends of King Bhumibol, suddenly finds himself forced to obey the whims of Vajiralongkorn, first in a humiliating training course and then as the crown prince’s personal page. It is a dizzying fall from grace, and will be an ongoing nightmare for him.

On Khwankeo’s sons, Thaanit was a “special expert of the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, and … Dissathorn … [was] a high-ranking executive of the Bureau of the Royal Household.”

In another consolidation, the Bangkok Post reports that the king “has appointed ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol, the King’s secretary, as caretaker and manager of his personal assets and interests.”

Back in 2014, Sathipong played the role of secretary to the prince and was involved in bringing down the family of the estranged wife, then Princess Srirasmi and in reorganizing the palace’s troops.





Further updated: Unsubstantiated rumors and speculation

13 10 2016

Because the palace provides little information, there is considerable speculation about the king’s dying days.

Social media has some pretty long and involved discussions of what’s happening and what will happen.

Much of this is highly speculative. For example, there social media speculation that the prince returning to Thailand by a TG flight is seen as significant of something by some, such as control by the military junta. Some see his return as evidence that there will be no intervention in succession. We will soon know if any of this speculation and guessing is worth the huge efforts that go into it.

One current social media rumor is that the “old brass” from the Privy Council is currently meeting with the junta’s “new brass.” This seems  reasonable speculation and we’d guess that such a meeting would not be the first. If there is going to be any interference in succession, these are the main players but there’s no recent and compelling evidence to suggest that there will be such an intervention, but the junta’s Thailand is highly secretive and that needs to be kept in mind.

Reports from Thailand suggest that there is a calm “waiting” going on. That said, we can expect considerable grieving when it is announced that the king has died.set-index

Update 1: Here is another claim that needs to be considered carefully before believing it. And we mean the one by the junta’s “Deputy junta head for the Economy” Somkid Jatusripitak, who declares that the “authorities are now hunting for people who are causing Thailand’s stock market to plummet rapidly.” Apparently now infected by junta-itis, which affects the brain, detaching it from reality, he says he “has ordered Securities and Exchange Commission of Thailand (SEC) to find people who are spreading rumours causing rapid fall on the nation’s stock market…”.

It’s the Royal Household Bureau’s announcements and then the failure of the junta and palace to say anything about the way they are dealing with the king’s demise that are causing the drop.

Somkid “said that Thai people should not become victims of those who are spreading rumours for personal gains, adding that people should trust in the nation’s economic potential and follow news from the government sources only.” See what we mean? Only believe the military dictatorship!

Then, remarkably, he added to the rumors: “This country is now at a very important moment and things will gradually get better…”. So the king is dead or about to die, now confirmed by this statement.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reports that Princesses Sirindhorn, Soamsawali, Chulabhorn and Prince Vajiralongkorn are again at Siriraj Hospital. We see no mention of the queen, who is also hospitalized.