Updated: Where there’s smoke…

22 02 2021

Which fire will the police bosses want to extinguish? There’s the gambling fire, the drug smuggling fire and the elephant ticket inferno.

Of course, the latter inferno can’t be touched as it directly involves the monarchy, so lese majeste repression is the way the regime has jumped, trying to shut down talk that has spread like wildfire. The gambling scam is well known and the cops have been getting away with it for decades, so the usual response is a few transfers a couple of arrests, a period of studied silence, and then back to normal corruption. The funds from gambling go throughout the force and beyond and are absolutely necessary for the “normal” operation of the police.

However, it is reported that the drugs scam might get some attention. The problem is that it also involves the monarchy.

National police boss Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk is reported to have “ordered a probe into opposition claims during last week’s censure debate that a police colonel and a police lieutenant general were involved in the smuggling attempt of 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine in Tak that was foiled on Oct 18, 2019…”. Naturally enough such lower-ranked officers would normally be working for higher-ups in the force.

But then we learn that the “investigation” will be completed by week’s end. We can’t help but wonder. For many investigations, the cops take years and decades. A cover up? Perhaps. After all, “police spokesman Pol Maj Gen Yingyos Thepchamnong responded … during the censure debate” saying that “although it was difficult to prove the involvement of the officials, police ‘would try their best’ to establish what had happened.”

But then there’s the neat bit:

Torsak

Last Wednesday, Pol Lt Gen Torsak Sukwimol, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), assigned Pol Lt Col Ekkasit To-adithep, a member of the bureau’s working group on special crime suppression, to file a defamation charge with the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) against the administrator of a Facebook page called Sanap Sanun Patibatkan Tamruat (“We support police operations”).

Pol Lt Col Ekkasit said the Facebook page published details and a photo of Pol Lt Gen Torsak in a manner that misled the public about Pol Lt Gen Torsak’s alleged role in the 2019 drug case.

Provincial Police Region 6 had already investigated Pol Lt Gen Torsak’s alleged involvement in the case and at the time he was cleared of any wrongdoings.

We all know who Torsak is and the power and influence he has amassed being close to the palace. He was mentioned in the censure debate. But the thing that PPT recalled was that earlier post we had on Torsak. In it we stated:

Torsak has been moving up for several years.He now finds himself in demand for all manner of activities and clearly enjoys the limelight. One of the most intriguing reports we located was his association with the Chinese-Thai Global One Belt One Road Association, formerly known as Hokien International Chinese Cultural Association, formerly chaired by the Democrat Party’s Alongkorn Ponlaboot.

We wonder why all those links have been removed….

Update: Khaosod has an excellent reflection on some of the issues mentioned above. Police spokespersons went to ground. Among other things it states:

During Friday’s no-confidence debate, Rangsiman said 20 police officers were exempted from the official criteria for a promotion and fast tracked to a higher position after their names were listed in “The Elephant Ticket.”

The ticket is said to be a document signed by Royal Household Bureau sec-gen Sathitpong Sukvimol, who asked a certain institution for permission to vault those men up their ranks.

The promotions were granted, even though Sathitpong – whose previous positions include the head of the Crown Property Bureau – does not currently have any formal position in the police force.

Mentions of the “Elephant Ticket” appear to be mentioned for the first time in an investigative report by MGR Online news agency back in 2017.

“The best kind of Ticket, or promotion recommendation letter, that has never been refused, no matter what the requested positions are, is called Elephant Ticket,” the article said. “This fact is only known within the police circle.”

 





The royal elephant in the room

20 02 2021

Reading a report at the Thai Enquirer on Move Forward’s Rangsiman Rome and his speech in parliament requires insider knowledge.

Reporting that he “showed the four-page document from 2019, when the Royal Thai Police force was under the leadership of [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and of current Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wangsuwan,” it is left to the reader’s imagination and inside knowledge to work out what this is about, adding:

The so-called chang or elephant ticket is allegedly a list of police officers assured of promotion. The ticket, according to Rome, is a vehicle for positions and connections within the police, bypassing the official merit-based system for promotion.

Immediately the hashtag #ตั๋วช้าง began trending, used millions of times.

Like an earlier politician forced into exile, Rangsiman spoke of the patronage system. Rangsiman implied “Prayut and Prawit were aware that such corrupt practices were taking place, accusing the administration of allowing the police to indulge the ‘godfathers’ operating gambling dens and the drug trade, while cracking down on pro-democracy protestors like criminals.”

The closest the newspaper gets to talking about the elephant in the room is when it reports that the MP said “he was aware that he was breaching a dangerous taboo against some of the country’s most powerful vested interests.” That’s code for the monarchy and that he was speaking of the involvement of the palace in police promotions and corruption was clearer – but still unstated – when he said:

This is probably the most dangerous action I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said during the hearing. “But since I have been chosen by the people, I will fight for the people…. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I have no regrets over the decisions that I have made today.

It is Khaosod that reports the speech more directly, helped by the slimy lese majeste bully Suporn Atthawong.

According to this report, Rangsiman’s “bombshell revelation” was that “a handful of government favorites and a royal aide can dictate appointments and removals within the police force at their whim…”.

He went further, saying that the documents showed that “police officers can gain immediate promotions without going through the formal route if they manage to obtain a ‘Ticket,’ a document signed by Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, the commander of the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.” That’s the younger brother of the king’s most important official.

The link to the palace is clear:

The MP said the scheme is run by Torsak’s brother, Sathitpong Sukvimol, who serves as Lord Chamberlain to the royal palace. Documents shown by Rangsiman shows that Sathitpong in 2019 wrote to a certain institution asking for 20 police officers to receive either new ranks or titles.

The slimy Suporn has rushed in with Article 112 allegations:

We have transcribed every word and letter of the speeches that Mr. Rangsiman Rome referenced the monarchy…. Our legal team has looked into it and concluded that the information is sufficient for prosecution under Article 112.

Of course, the king’s previous interference in police promotions has been well-documented. A recent academic piece, drawing on Wikileaks, summarizes this, stating that Vajiralongkorn twice “intervened in matters to do with the appointment of the national police chief, in 1997 and 2009, both seemingly with personal motives…”. We also know that there were several periods when the king was crown prince that there were rumors that he was involved with crime figures.





Updated: Rewarding loyalist royalists

16 09 2020

The throne expends considerable effort currying loyalty and has long rewarded that loyalty. Over the years, it has been the pillars of the official loyalists who have been rewarded, from the military, judiciary and senior bureaucracy.

The Bangkok Post reports that King Vajiralongkorn has appointed retiring army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan as deputies of the Lord Chamberlain.

The Royal Household Bureau announced “the transfers of both men to the newly created positions” that will take effect from 30 September, when “[t]heir status will change to palace officials after they retire.”

The report notes that both “Gen Apirat and Pol Col Naras were from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School…”.

Update: Khaosod reports: “Under their new positions, Apirat and Naras will report to Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, who serves as the agency’s secretary-general.”





Updated: King controls Army, Air Force and Police

29 08 2020

The winner in this years reshuffles of the military and police is King Vajiralongkorn. While loyalists have been in charge of these forces for decades, the palace has always had and expressed preferences. Vajiralongkorn has previously been involved in contests over the appointment of police chiefs.

Yet the recent approval of heads of Army, Air Force and Police suggest that the appointments have all been made to satisfy the king.

Nikkei Asian Review has recently recounted how “[t]rusted military allies of Thailand’s monarch have moved to extend their reach into the armed forces…”.

Whether this amounts to “alienating Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha from a pillar he needs to prop up his government,” remains to be seen. After all, Gen Prayuth is a staunch royalist and has been premier for more than six years. The last prime minister to serve longer was Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, another royalist, and he had to face down coup attempts.

According to unnamed sources, it was palace favorite and Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong who boosted “Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, the assistant army chief, to succeed him in September as the new commander of the army, which has 335,000 active-duty troops.”

Gen Narongphan is known to be trusted by Vajiralongkorn while Gen Prayuth is reported to have  favored Gen. Natthapon Nakpanich, the deputy army chief. But, of course, it is the king “who wields ultimate authority in this Southeast Asian kingdom.”

The report goes on to observe:

In a country where demonstrations of loyalty to the monarchy are prized, both Apirat and Narongphan wear theirs around their neck — special shirts with a red rim around the collar. The shirts show they have passed special training for soldiers in the elite Royal Command Guard, also known as Royal Guard 904, which answers only to the king.

The two generals also belong to the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based military faction with a rich army pedigree. The monarch himself served in the ranks of the Wongthewan, as the King’s Guard is called in Thai, during military service in the 1970s while he was crown prince.

Given the king’s connections with the Air Force and with Air Chief Marshall Sathitpong Sukwimol as his long-serving private secretary the rise of palace loyalist Air Chief Marshall Airbull Suttiwan has been expected.

Meanwhile, at the police, Gen. Suwat “Big Pud” Chaengyodsuk, “a former commander of a royal protection police unit” has been approved as the next national police chief. Big Pud is reported to have “attended the same military cadet class with the current army chief Gen. Apirat … and was a classmate of Chakthip [Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda, current police chief] when they studied at the Royal Police Cadet Academy.”

Most significantly, Big Pud commanded the “police commando unit tasked with providing security to the Royal Family members and carrying out other tasks assigned by King Vajiralongkorn.”

The chances are that after these appointments are approved that a harder line will be taken against students and anti-monarchists.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that there’s been pushback on the Air Force appointment, with Air Chief Marshall Airbull reportedly pushed aside after complaints, that included barb that “the nomination of ACM Airbull from ‘a special signal’ was damaging.” In the past, unless Vajiralongkorn has changed his mind, he has tended to be insistent. Let’s watch this.





Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





New privy councilor and the CPB

12 03 2018

After the unceremonious sacking of Wirach (or Virat) Chinvinitkul  earlier this month a new privy councilor has been appointed.

King Vajiralongkorn “has issued a Royal Command appointing Mr Chirayu Isarangkun na Ayuthaya as a privy councilor effective as of March 11.”

Chirayu has been Lord Chamberlain of the Bureau of the Royal Household for about a year has long been director-general of the Crown Property Bureau, In fact, since 1987, when the then king plucked him from a corruption scandal in the Prem Tinsulanonda government.

The big news is that taking Chirayu out of the CPB allows the king to appoint Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol director-general of the Crown Property Bureau. This means the king now has “his man” in charge of the CPB and all its loot and assets.

Sathitpong was the king’s secretary when he was made caretaker and manager of his personal assets and interests in early 2017. Considered a trusted confidant, back in 2014, Sathitpong 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.





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.





The prince’s men

14 02 2014

Readers may recall that just over a week ago we posted on a movement of troops that caused considerable social media attention. Part of the reason for this was that the troops were associated with Prince Vajiralongkorn, and he was rumored to be supporting the government.

The social media faction that argues that succession is the key to understanding Thailand’s political crisis saw the troop movement as some kind of support for their position.Prince in uniform

Now the Bangkok Post has reported what can only be an “official statement” on what happened. We say this because while it appears as a “report,” it is actually in the form of an announcement under the name of Wassana Nanuam.

The report is interesting for it could be used by the “succession crowd” or by those who are not so struck by this claim that this is the explanatory key.

It does state:

There have, however, been recent attempts to link the creation of the Royal Security Command to the political conflict. Fake documents were released saying the command had assigned 3,000 of its officers to take care of the prime minister, seemingly in an attempt to draw the monarchy into the ongoing political unrest.

Permanent secretary for defence Gen Niphat Thonglek confirmed no such order had been issued, as did ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol, secretary to the Crown Prince.

”The command has nothing to do with politics. Its main duty is to provide security to members of the royal family,” Gen Nipat said.

The account reports of the transfer of a “unit of elite soldiers, the Royal Security Command,” to “the authority of the Defence Ministry in its administrative streamlining of protective duties for the royal family.”

The first thing to notice is that this is fixing some kind of previous problem or issue. What that is is never made clear, but if we were interested in the succession issue, we’d likely see this as a positioning maneuver.

The reporting lines are explained, and support this line of thinking:

Reporting directly to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the command will be assigned to provide security for the royal family, as well as take charge of administrative affairs for the palace and His Royal Highness.

This is not a small unit; it “comprises six battalions of soldiers, [who] will be placed on the Defence Ministry’s payroll, permanent secretary for defence Niphat Thonglek said, rather than the army’s as in the past.” We are not military wonks, but we guess a battalion is several hundred troops.

There is a bunch of stuff about this group recruiting and being an elite unit with better pay and so on. And also some stuff about how the recruits get tough and specialist training and are on probation for some time.

This unit is know as “The Royal Guard 904,” and “well recognised for its strict discipline and professionalism. The officers are thoroughly screened to ensure competency.” Loyalty to the prince too, no doubt.

Interestingly a point is made that this Royal Guard includes an “all-female team…”. Make of that what you will.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has reportedly said that he is “confident these officers are fit for the duty of providing security for the royal family.” That could be read as a linking of the Army to the prince as succession looms.

There’s something going on.