Another royal money move

16 03 2018

Reuters reports that “Thailand’s king now has a stake worth nearly $150 million in the country’s biggest industrial conglomerate, Siam Cement Group Pcl, according to stock exchange data, while his close aide is in line for a board seat.”

As background, readers might recall that it was last October that it was reported that the Crown Property Bureau’s shareholding in Siam Commercial Bank suddenly declined by 3.33%, amounting to about 17 billion baht. It was then reported that these shares had been transferred to King Vajiralongkorn from the Crown Property Bureau.

The latest move on Siam Cement followed the same pattern: “The 0.76 percent stake in the king’s name in Siam Cement was acquired on Feb. 8 while there was a matching reduction in the stake of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages palace assets…”.

In total, the shares previously held by the CPB and now transferred to the king’s portfolio amounts to about $690 million. These holdings would produce a “dividend yield [of]… more than $25 million per year.”

The report continues by commenting on the secretiveness of these transfers: “The terms of the transfers have not been disclosed in public. Neither company nor the Crown Property Bureau would comment on them…. The palace has a policy of not commenting to media.”

The CPB remains the largest shareholder in Siam Cement, holding 30% of the company.

Since taking the throne, outside the CPB, the king has become “the 15th largest shareholder in Siam Cement and the sixth biggest in Siam Commercial Bank…”.

At Siam Cement, “Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol, a close aide to the king who was made director general of the Crown Property Bureau this month, is recommended for a board seat at a March 28 annual general meeting.”

Satitpong, 69, has been responsible for managing the king’s personal affairs and assets for some time. He reportedly “became personal secretary to then-Crown Prince … Vajiralongkorn in 2005, and served on the board of national flag carrier Thai Airways International from 2009 to 2013.” The then-prince had a long relationship and “position” with Thai Airways, as well as having a personal  interest in several women with the airline.

The SCG annual report for 2017 (clicking downloads a PDF) lists former CPB boss Chirayu Isarangkun as a director of the company since 1987 until 1999 and then since 2007. The board is a coterie of old royalists, with an average age of 72. Of the 24 listed as directors and management in the company, only one is a woman. A look through the CVs of the directors reveals that most have long royal links and serve on other royal-owned companies, including those making, managing and investing the personal wealth of Vajiralongkorn and Sirindhorn. Details of retirements and nominations for the SCG Board can be downloaded as a PDF. According to this document, Chirayu will remain on the Board.

Speculation about the reasons for the king needing to control large personal stakes in two of Thailand’s largest listed companies is rife. One reason suggested is his lavish lifestyle and the need for cash rather than relying on the CPB, although the king now has more or less personal control of the CPB. Another suggestion is that he plans grand palace construction in the expanding royal precinct.

The various reports note that the CPB remains huge. The usual estimate of its assets is around $30 billion. But that’s a figure Forbes came up with back in 2011. Yet an earlier estimate by an academic came up with more than $40 billion in 2005. Since then Thai shares have performed reasonably well and land prices have increased substantially.  Our guesstimate is that the CPB, if it has done as well as the rest of Thailand’s wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons, should now be valued at between $50 billion and $70 billion. (It is possible that the CPB has been underperforming, but its operations are a secret, as is its worth.)





Sticking it to them

24 06 2017

Late on Friday, the junta’s police declared that there were no “unusual signs of political movements to stir public disturbances on the anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution…”. What they mean is that there ban on gathering at the site of the stolen 1932 plaque was holding, so far.

No one in the royalist elite wants anyone to remember 1932 in ways that hail democracy and people’s sovereignty.

But then there was the brave Akechai Hongkangwarn. He was detained by the royalist patrol dogs on Saturday when he “attempted to install a mock-up of the missing historical plaque at the Royal Plaza…”.

Good for him!

Police say they “had not yet charged Ekachai but only detained him for ‘talks’ for an understanding of the situation.”

Akechai has a history of political activism and we salute him. We hope others follow his example and stand up for democracy.





Updated: Lese majeste barbarity deepens

9 06 2017

A strange mood emerged sometime during the 2010s that saw red shirts considering then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as a political ally. We are not sure why this view developed. Some of it drew on the position that the prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra. That position drew on a partial reading of Wikileaks and the successionist argument that the royalist elite was seeking to prevent Thaksin being involved in that event, supporting the prince.

Whatever the reasons, this also led to an odd claim that the prince as king could be more “democratic” and could wind back the “damaging” (mis)use of the lese majeste law.

Nothing in the prince’s life story justified such political optimism.

When it comes to lese majeste, recent years suggest that the then prince used lese majeste as a means to rid himself of those he considered personal enemies, had crossed him or found themselves on the wrong side of his “divorce” from wife no. 3, Srirasmi.

The record of the first six months of Vajiralongkorn’s reign suggests that the reign of lese majeste terror is to deepen. This is confirmed in the most recent sentencing by a military court.

On 9 June 2017, a military court sentenced Wichai Thepphong to 70 years jail on lese majeste. The previous “record” for lese majeste repression was a sentence of 60 years.

Wichai’s sentence was reduced to 35 years when he agreed to plead guilty.

He was convicted of 10 lese majeste offences in “creating a copycat Facebook profile and posting lèse majesté messages on it to take revenge on his [former] friend.”

Wichai was “arrested in December 2015 and has remained in custody since.” That lengthy stay in jail apparently convinced him to change his not guilty plea.

Three basic points can be made. First, because the lese majeste law is draconian and allows anyone to make a complaint, it is subject to abuse by anyone, including the authorities. It isn’t even clear why this case amounted to lese majeste.

Second, it is a remarkable testament to the state of authoritarianism, that this case has been the responsibility of a military court.

Third, there’s no reason for false optimism about he new reign.

Update: We fixed an incorrect link.





Reorienting the palace-military partnership

15 02 2017

If the palace propaganda machine has had to re-vamp itself to deal with the new king, spare a thought for the pundits. For those guessing what’s going on inside the palace or even in the king’s head, the current situation must seem quite at odds with some of the predictions made.

Reuters reports on the new reign. Its point is that the new king “is putting an assertive stamp on his rule.” They mean “reign,” but some might think there’s a move to make a reign a “rule.”

The report says that “King Vajiralongkorn has made it clear to the generals running the country that he will not just sit in the background as a constitutional figurehead…”.

Given Vajiralongkorn’s past actions, reorganizing the palace, being open in promoting favorites and his propensity for headstrong actions, as well as the long period of the old king’s ill-health, we doubt the generals have been surprised. If they were, this indicates their political incapacity.

The king’s father was in incessant political player, so the mold was set for another interventionist monarch. In addition, the deals the junta has done with King Vajiralongkorn show that this king will have more legal powers to intervene.

That matters in Thailand, where relationships between monarchy, army and politicians have long determined the stability of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy and America’s oldest regional ally.

Academic Paul Chambers reckons the king “has proven himself to be very adept at managing the junta and the military…”. Another academic, Eugenie Mérieau states that the relationship between the king and junta “is at least one of obedience…”.

We kind of get what that means. In fact, we guess that, as was the case with his father, Vajiralongkorn is in a partnership that involves mutual back-scratching that maintains society’s hierarchical social order that pours wealth into the purses of the loyalist and royalist elite.

That does not mean there won’t be tensions. For example, the king’s call for changes to the draft constitution may have been something of a surprise for the junta. Yet the process has publicly demonstrated a new king’s real political power and an important piece of political theater as the junta showed obedience. That’s good  for both sides of the partnership, especially as the junta looks to its political longevity.

It’s also risky for the palace if the political winds shift.

At the moment, though, with former junta members on the Privy Council, the links with the junta and the tools for the “management” of the relationship are in place.

That’s why the Reuters report can state:

None of more than two dozen serving or former officials, military officers, parliamentarians, diplomats or analysts that Reuters spoke to for this story saw any immediate threat to that balance of power.

The report notes that King Vajiralongkorn “started from a very different place to his father.” Mentioning his erratic and turbulent “private” life, it is noted that Vajiralongkorn has a strong military background, having had military training and involvement since he was 18 years old. Some of his military “service” was with the King’s Guard, which now has considerable clout in government and in the palace.

All of this should mean he feels very comfortable with the military running the country’s politics. But the king is erratic, headstrong and conspiratorial, so nothing is permanent for him. And, his reputation for strong-arm tactics means it is walking on eggshells for those close to him.

As the report observes, the king has been quick to rearrange the palace:

Over 20 appointments and promotions have been made by the new king and published in the Royal Gazette.

This includes reshuffling senior members of the household, many of whom had held posts for decades under King Bhumibol, and promoting military officials with ties to the new king.

Among other notable military promotions was Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya within the King’s Own Bodyguard. Often seen at the king’s side, though not publicly designated as his consort, she became a general on the day he took the throne.

All of this means that the pundits have a new lease on life as palace tasseographers.

Already some of them read royalty into too much. The example in the report is of former reporter turned reconciliation guru Michael Vatikiotis of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Some of his history of consulting on “reconciliation” is here and here.

He reckons that he sees “sense of urgency with regard to reconciliation that some politicians say stems from the new king’s call for peace and unity…”. He states: “The military government is under some pressure to deliver on the king’s request, which may even speed up the transition back to civilian government.” That sounds so last reign….

Monarchies have several weaknesses. One is that they are surrounded by hangers-on who are afraid to comment on the king’s lack of clothing. Another is the hangers-on to the hangers-on who try to manufacture outcomes by using “signs” from the palace. And another is the personality of the monarch which means that for good or ill, all reigns are highly personalized.

All of these challenge the Thai king and his relationship with the generals.





Forced confessions and lese majeste

25 01 2017

In a recent post we used the term  whiffy to describe a deal approved by the military junta to extend a contract to manage the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center for one of Thailand’s richest.

If that deal was whiffy, then a recent story at Prachatai details a case that reeks.

It is apparently another case of a political activist being accused of lese majeste and then being fitted up. In this case, being held in detention until he “agreed” to plead guilty.

Burin Intin, a welder from northern Thailand, was arrested about 27 April 2016. He was taken from the police by soldiers and detained at a military base before being indicted on two counts of lese majeste and computer crime charges on 22 July 2016.Burin

He was arrested as the military junta cracked down on dissidents. Burin had been campaigning online for the release of the eight from the Neo-Democracy and  Resistant Citizen groups arrested for opposing the military junta’s illegal rule.

The military junta’s thugs declared that Burin had committed lese majeste in his “private chats” on Facebook and it was soon revealed that at least some of his chats were with Patnaree Chankij, the mother of activist student Sirawith Seritiwat, who has also been charged with lese majeste in another bizarre case.

The conversation was referred to by police using these (translated)  words:

In the [Facebook] chat, Mr. Burin who used his Facebook account named “Burin Intin” had posted messages obviously deemed defamatory to the monarchy. During the chat, Mr. Burin had also wrote “Don’t criticise me for saying all these”, and a reply had come from a Facebook account “Nuengnuch Chankij writing ‘Ja’.

Having been held for almost nine months, on 24 January 2017, Burin changed his plea before the military court to guilty on lese majeste and computer crimes charges. He will be sentenced on Friday.

It is a common tactic of the thug-authorities to drag out lese majeste cases until they get a guilty plea. This tactic is a form of torture.

Burin has stated that, on “the night when he was detained at the military base in Bangkok, army officers demanded his Facebook password, but he resisted by keeping his mouth shut.” He claims that he was then beaten:

a heavily-built man in plain clothes, with a knitted hat, gave Burin four hard slaps on the head, while an interrogation officer threatened him by saying “You surely won’t survive. You won’t be able to get out [of this place]. If you won’t tell me [your password], I will take you somewhere where you will face even harsher treatment.”

Burin insists he did not give up his password yet police “used conversations claimed to have been obtained from Burin’s Facebook inbox as supporting evidence to press charges against him.”

It also appears that “the documents to support the charges appear to have been prepared even before the police raided his house and confiscated his computer.”

This is just one more lese majeste case where laws and the rights of citizens are simply ignored and thug-authorities steamroller cases to conviction. The “justice” system in Thailand is very deeply flawed, but nowhere is it so lawless and unconstitutional than in the use of the lese majeste law and the framing of “suspects.”

Thailand’s “justice” system, always dubious, is now a sham. Previous shaky notions of rule of law have been expunged to create an injustice system of rule of and by lords, with the lords being the military, monarchy and the royalist elite.





Updated: Mud on the road to nowhere

8 01 2017

The junta’s “election,” if ever permitted, is going to be a non-democratic public relations stunt. Thailand’s military junta will allow an “election” only when it knows it will get the result it wants. That means no Thaksin Shinawatra party can get close to power, not now, not ever.

Various members of the junta and its puppet organizations talk about “election” in contradictory ways. Yes, last year. No, this year. Well, perhaps next year. And, yes, after the military coup in 2014, there was babble from The Dictator about 12 months to an election.

(We can only wonder at the fad for the term “fake news.” After all, the junta and its authoritarian predecessors are masters of the lie that manipulates opinion. The palace propagandists and its flunkies and acolytes just make stuff up and have done so for decades.)

We are not the only ones to consider that Thailand is led by power-grubbing, authoritarian liars.

What is clear is that The Dictator has prepared the Army for an “election,” should there be one and for continuing anti-Thaksin political actions. As this Bangkok Post report by Wassana Nanuam states, reflecting the military perspective, “if” (let’s say “when”) General Prayuth Chan-ocha “needs to serve the nation longer, worries about the military should not be of much concern…”. At least not for the royalist elite and anti-democrats. The implication is that The Dictator will be around for a considerable time, “election” or not.

But there have been lots of conflicting reports of late on “election” timing. The latest effort to make things “clear” has been by Wissanu Krea-ngam, a hireling who is usually sent out when “legal” issues are “discussed” or need to be “clarified.”

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu is deemed to have “clarified the government’s roadmap leading to the general amid confusion over whether an election will actually happen this year.” He says “the government [he means the junta] has agreed that it will follow the roadmap which spells out the time frames and sequence of related events specified by the new constitution.”

What’s the time frame?

When the new constitution is promulgated, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) has 240 days to complete the 10 organic laws, which will be tabled to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for consideration — a process that will take two months.

As we remember it, the king had 90 days from 9 November to endorse the constitution. That would be 8 February would be the last day for “endorsement.” Assuming the CDC uses the full time, as it has said it will, then we would be about the end of the first week of October. Then there’s the two months for the CDC, meaning an election in the first week of December 2017.

But this is as clear as a bucket of mud. For a start, the last king died in October 2016 and the new king did not accede until 1 December. Oddly, his reign is claimed to have begun from the death of his father, even though Vajiralongkorn declined to accede for some six weeks. So when does the 90 days begin? 9 November? or 1 December?

Then, we imagine that some of the period of fiddling with the law and constitution by the CDC and NLA could overlap.

But the organic laws also go to the king for “endorsement.” We assume he has another 90 days to sign off. And assuming the king does as he’s told and those drafts become laws “an election will be held within 150 days…”.

road-to-nowhere

Just to be “clear” like mud, Wissanu says: “But with the passing of King Rama IX, things have to be postponed…”.

So when Wissanu says the “roadmap is still on course,” we can only guess at what this means. It may be the road to nowhere or it could be a mapping of some future year. We can be sure that it is a military map.

Update: The Nation has produced an infographic that seeks to explain the date of an “election.” It suggests that the junta’s “road map” means that the earliest date for an “election” will be January 2018 while the timetable allows an election as late as September 2018.





Regression and the consolidation of military power

5 01 2017

Generals are saying there will be an “election” in 2017, contradicting all the flunkies they’ve hired to get all the laws in place to allow and “election.” It matters little, for as the military junta has planned, an “election” won’t change anything. The military’s Thai-style democracy is not democratic in any way and leaves real decision-making to the royalist elite.

A story at Scoop Media, based in New Zealand tells some of the story, mixed with a little royalist nonsense. We quote some of the insightful bits and ignore the royalist tripe.

[General] Prayuth [Chan-ocha]’s post-coup policies are also defending Thailand’s “old money” elite against social climbing “nouveau riche” rivals.

Those quashed rivals are led by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who Prayuth helped topple in a 2006 coup, and by Thaksin’s sister former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who was ousted by Prayuth’s 2014 coup….

During the past two years, his regime moved supporters into top positions within the military, police, bureaucracy, judiciary and legislature, to ensure the military’s leverage over future policies and governments….

Prayuth … continues to strengthen his forces against his two biggest enemies, the Shinawatra siblings.

Former Prime Minister Yingluck is being prosecuted for her alleged “negligence” while administering rice subsidies during 2012-14.

She must pay $1 billion in compensation to the government for financial “losses”….

The royalists, the “old money” elite, Sino-Thai tycoons and the frightened middle class in Bangkok are backing Prayuth. They are backing King Vajiralongkorn, even if they did have had doubts about him. They have little choice. They know their wealth and privilege requires a continuation of the conservative military-monarchy coalition.