The king, his servants, and the monarchy question

20 11 2020

Clipped from Thisrupt

Thisrupt reports on the rally at Parliament House and the speeches made, many of them “addressed directly to [the] … King … by his first name, Vajiralongkorn, and openly mocked his rule.”

As mentioned in a previous post, they launched red balloons where the “words written on them were, ‘I order you to be under the constitution,’ using the “derogatory กู (gu) as the pronoun for ‘I’ and มึง (mueng) as ‘you’.”

The report concludes that “at the heart of Thailand’s political conflict is the monarchy question.”

While Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha promises to use all laws against the protesters, hinting that Article 112 on lese majeste may be back in the regime’s arsenal, the king continues to reward hard-line favorites.

The Bangkok Post reports that the king has “has appointed former army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong deputy director of the Crown Property Bureau.”

He was already a member of the Board, appointed after he retired from the Army and was made a deputy chamberlain in the palace. Now he’s catapulted to a level just behind the prince-cum-king’s long-serving Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol.

Gen Apirat is notoriously hot-headed and the most ardent of ultra-royalists.

King and his new, favorite minion, Gen Apirat (right). Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Interestingly, pro-democracy demonstrators have announced that their next rally will be “outside the Crown Property Bureau on Nov 25…”.

At the same time, the king’s supporters are becoming increasingly rabid and going ever more supine. The picture below has circulated on social media. It claims to show Supreme Court President Methinee Chalothorn. LIke all judges, she believes the courts and judges owe their allegiance to the king rather than to the law and justice for all people. Perhaps more than others, she has demonstrated her subservience to the king.

So far  the demonstrators haven’t given much attention to the judiciary. Perhaps they should as it is a pillar of the establishment they seek to reform. Like the king, the judiciary needs to be reformed and brought under the constitution. The double standards and politicization need to be reversed. The neo-feudalism of the judiciary is a roadblock to reform.





Guarding the king

30 05 2019

Over the past few years the number of police and soldiers assigned to the palace has reportedly ballooned. Part of this has to do with the military credentials of the current king. Some of it has to do with the great fear that is generalized among the elite over challenges to its control.

Some might ask why the king, who spends most of his time in Germany, needs an ever larger force of “protectors.” Again, part of the answer probably has to do with the king’s training and his desire for pomp and circumstance and his personal need to command. Notice that he’s incessantly promoting people – especially wives, concubines and dogs – and demoting. It may also reflect, as the media sometimes has it, that the king is establishing his own force to contend with the martial power of the military.

It was in October 2018 that PPT first posted on reports about a new and special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy.” At that time, the new unit of 1,600 personnel, was said to be made up of “police commandos transferred from the Crime Suppression Division.” It is said to be “providing security to the Royal Family” as well as “collecting information on ‘individuals or groups whose behaviors pose a threat to the national security and … the King’.”

A later post recounted that this represented a quadrupling of the police force assigned to the palace and was costing the taxpayer a minimum of 300 million baht for salaries alone.

At that time, the force’s commander, then Pol Col Torsak Sukvimol (ต่อศักดิ์ สุขวิมล), “explained” that this huge increase in security, including intelligence units and additional “patrolling” is required when the “king visits different parts of the country.” This seems like blarney. We haven’t detected any particular increase in any royal trips, except to and from Europe.

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post carried yet another report on now Pol Maj Gen Torsak and the renamed “Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.”

Torsak

Maj Gen Torsak seems to be well-connected. He is reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).”

That ACM Satitpong has served the prince/king for many years and that he is “trusted” is confirmed by his rapid promotion not just in the palace but within the king’s businesses.

Obviously assisted by his family connections, 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.

But back to the recent report in the Post.

Pol Maj Gen Torsak explained that “his team is responsible for the advance surveillance of areas which the King will pass through as well as guarding the monarch and his family.” He added that the unit “will not be deployed to deal with crime suppression, so it can focus on protecting the monarchy at all times…”.

Yet he claimed a populist role for the unit, being sent to “ordinary duties to capture those who have long been wanted under warrants, particularly in cases in which they made trouble for the public.” That populism is also seen in the report when, lapping at Torsak’s boots, it portrays him as a benevolent autocrat.

All officers undergo stringent anti-terrorism training and get the most up-to-date weaponry. As Pol Maj Gen Torsak explained, “I believe that we also must have the best weapons for our officers…. They must protect themselves along with the VIPs and to do that they must be well-armed.”

It is never made clear which people or groups constitute the threats to the king and royal family. We wonder about the unit’s international operations.

Having ealier spoken of lese majeste, he is was again quoted on Article 112:

Speaking of the lese majeste law, Pol Maj Gen Torsak said the King gave guidance that he does not want to see anyone prosecuted under the lese majeste law as it can be “a double-edged sword”, adding the monarch has always shown mercy.

Some people may misjudge the situation from things they have heard, he noted.

“The King gave guidance that no punishment should be made in relation to Section 112 [of the Criminal Code] since some people may have misunderstood or listened to false information,” Pol Maj Gen Torsak said.

The monarch wants authorities to treat the matter on a case-by-case basis with a committee investigating the intentions behind supposed breaches, he said.

Not short of ego, Pol Maj Gen Torsak said “his nomination to the top job at the new division did not happen by chance…. ‘I have earned the King’s trust by working hard for him,’ he said.”

King’s Guard 904 needs to be carefully watched as it expands as a power center within the palace but with the potential for widespread influence and action.





Royal bike ride bigger than Ben Hur

30 11 2018

It is getting bigger than Ben Hur. The royal “warmth” and “love” bike ride is now having its second rehearsal, following the “opening” of the route around the airport earlier this month, with the arrangements for getting the royal free stuff are highly complex.

We guess this might be a way of avoiding the Bike for Dad problems, including an alleged assassination plot and two deaths in custody.

The news is coming thick and fast on this royal event, which must also be an event the junta wants to see go well as any problem could be seen as an ill omen for the upcoming “election.”

The king recently ordered a ceremony where he “graciously bestowed t-shirts and drinking water for the benefit of participants in the upcoming Bike Un Ai Rak event.” That means his minions arranged the distribution of the stuff into the government hierarchy and it will presumably be handed to lower ranks until it eventually gets to the participants at the bottom of the feeding chain.

The reporting reflects an anal retentive atmosphere at the palace, noting that the “ceremony was held at the 606 Building of the Royal Household Bureau in Sanam Suea Pa.” The king’s most important minion, ACM Satitpong Sukvimol, the Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and Lord Chamberlain “presided” over a “dedication ceremony on behalf of … the King…”.

Reflecting how much of a big deal this is, the “Supreme Commander, Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office and Governors from all 76 provinces of the Kingdom received the t-shirts, which will be distributed to the participants in the nation-wide biking event…”. The shirts are significant because the king “personally designed the t-shirt,” which come with his cartoons on them. These look a lot like the stick figures that once became common as stickers on the backs of SUVs.

Dozens of roads are to be closed for 7 hours, for both rehearsal and event, causing major traffic problems and the deployment of tens of thousands of police, bureaucrats and soldiers. Rehearsals also have to be held in all provinces.

The military has had separate security rehearsals:

Army Region 1 Commander Lt Gen Narongphan Jitkaeotae has conducted a rehearsal of security detail for … the King as well as protection of riders in the Bike Un Ai Rak event. The rehearsal included congestion, 20 risk spots, hard turns, inclines, narrow passes and steep roads. Soldiers have installed signs to warn riders where they need to slow down to between 15 and 20 kph, and placed special warnings 200 and 50 meters ahead of risk spots. More personnel will be stationed on the day to advise participants on safety.

The expense for all of this lauding of the king and polishing his image is huge.





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.)





All that money and the Crown Property Bureau

28 07 2017

No one who has decided that monarchy matters in Thailand will be happy about the headline recently at the ASEAN Economist: “Clown king nears crisis point.”

Taylor McDonald’s piece uses material from Andrew MacGregor Marshall, now described as a “veteran observer of the Thai monarchy,” and apparently drawn from a recent BBC interview. Marshall, who previously argued that there was a succession crisis in Thailand, is cited in this report as declaring that “the situation was becoming increasingly unsustainable.” He is quoted as believing that as “details of the king’s lifestyle spread, the kingdom was approaching a ‘crisis point’…”.

We are not sure that there is any more crisis now than over the last decade or so, although Marshall’s account of the king’s cruelty, womanizing and his grab for power while re-feudalizing the palace are all undoubted, we have yet to see “crisis.” Some speculate that the crisis comes after the previous king is cremated.The article makes this point:

How much longer Thailand’s inflexible generals will tolerate Vajiralongkorn as their head of state will have to be seen. He will no doubt go down, along with the Emperor Caligula, as a key case study used by republicans arguing against constitutional monarchy.

While we may hope that this king gets the boot, the fact is that the deep political change needed in Thailand – an end to the monarchy – remains unlikely. That’s our speculation.

But to the point of this post. What caught PPT’s attention in the article were comments about the Crown Property Bureau.

The article states: “A close aide of Thailand’s King … Vajiralongkorn was this month named head of the agency which manages the monarchy’s vast holdings after legal changes giving the king total control of the Crown Property Bureau.”

About a week or so ago, secretly considered changes to the law governing the CPB were announced, giving the king absolute command over it. That change, the article notes, mean it is no longer possible for royalist regimes to claim the CPB is not the king’s but held “in trust for the nation.”

The CPB website continues to allow the download of a chapter on crown property in the palace-approved book King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work, which begins the chapter this way:

Since 1936, the law has made a clear distinction between property that belongs to the king as a person and that which belongs to the crown as an institution. The Crown Property Bureau (CPB) exists to manage the property of the crown. This property does not belong to the king in his private capacity, but to the monarchy as an institution which continues from reign to reign. This rather special category of property arose when an absolute monarchy, under which the king was lord over his realm and everything in it, both people and property, evolved into a constitutional monarchy that exists within a vibrant globalised economy.

By legal definition, the CPB is a juristic person. It is not part of the palace administration, nor is it a government agency, nor is it a private firm. It is a unique institution. It is also a rather mysterious institution.

The distinction between crown and person is now removed by the changes made by the military junta, responding to the king’s demand.

A later part of the chapter is about The Crown Property Act of 1948 which:

… reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person, independent of government and not placed under any ministry. The minister of finance remained as the ex-officio chairman of the CPB board. Other board members were to be appointed by the king. One of these would hold the post of director-general of the CPB and have full executive power.

That was also changed a couple of weeks ago. Now the king has control of the CPB. As the article states, this change “removes any pretence that the assets are for anything other than the private use of the eccentric king.”

Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol is now the “chair the bureau, a role which was previously held by the finance minister.” The report states that “Satitpong is Vajiralongkorn’s long-serving private secretary and was put in charge of the king’s private property in January.” The linking of the king’s private property and that of the crown, long a fiction in reality but maintained in law, is now gone, giving Vajiralongkorn control over a vast economic empire. PPT estimates that the CPB controls assets of about $55-60 billion and his personal property is likely to be at least another $10 billion.

The changes at the CPB go further, with the king putting other trusted favorites on its board. The table below shows the board before and after the change. THe sources are the 2016 Annual Report by the CPB (it can be downloaded) and the Thai version of the CPB’s webpage on the Board of Directors:

As can be seen, those added are all former or current military and police officers, all of whom have been close to the prince-now-king and have seen promotions under his new reign.

We can return to Marshall’s comments. He says that the king “seems determined to reassert the rule of monarchy and he doesn’t want all these rules and regulations … he wants everyone to know that he controls the money…”. He’s got that. He also notes that the “king is notoriously spendthrift.” That’s true and he now has a huge pile of loot to use.

We recall that the monarchy and state were almost bankrupted when King Vajiravudh governed through cronies and was spendthrift. It remains to be seen whether Vajiralongkorn will cause the same level of disquiet that was seen under Vajiravudh and which inexorably led to the 1932 Revolution.





Re-ordering the palace

26 09 2016

As we and others have posted over the past couple of years, as the health of the king has gone from bad to worse, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has been re-arranging palace affairs.

He has changed the command relationships associated with troops assigned to the palace. He got rid of an unwanted consort and her family. Although we cannot be sure, he seems to have been behind several of the efforts to clean away various royal hangers-on, through lese majeste cases.

A recent reshuffle of the royal household suggests that the slow, slow succession continues. The Bangkok Post reports that a “Royal Command has been issued to appoint Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau.”

Chirayu was previously a Grand Chamberlain and is the head of the Crown Property Bureau.

While the announcement follows the recent death of Lord Chamberlain, Keokhwan Vajarodaya, a couple of the new appointments are getting attention.

The Post states that the “royal command, issued on Sept 23, 2016 and countersigned by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, was published in the Royal Gazette on Sept 25.” Normally it would also be stated that the king signed the command. This may be an oversight at the Post.

It also states that “eight other persons have been appointed to positions in the Royal Household Bureau…”. In fact, as can be seen below (and here), several of them have held these positions for several years. Presumably the order derives in part from the prince’s re-ordering of the palace.

The appointments are:

1. ACM Satitpong Sukvimol to be Grand Chamberlain for policy administration and operations.

From Wikileaks: Separately, Niphon Promphan (Secretary General to the Prime Minister and a close associate of the Crown Prince) told us that he had met on March 2 with the Secretary to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, Air Chief Marshall Satitpong Sukvimol, and had relayed our concern that Bout would receive assistance from the Crown Prince’s office (reftel). Niphon told us that Satitpong denied that he or others in the Crown Prince’s entourage had any association with Bout. Satitpong said he would use his resources to investigate this false claim of ties to the Palace.

2. Lt Col Somchai Kanchanamanee to be Grand Chamberlain for royal residences.

We can’t find any information. Maybe readers can assist?

3. Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai to be Grand Chamberlain for security and special activities.

Jumpol or Chumpol is a former National Intelligence Director when Thaksin Shinawatra was premier.

From Wikileaks: the ongoing dispute over appointment of a new National Police Chief [link added by PPT] and the possible resignation of PM Abhisit’s Secretary General Niphon Promphan, who also works for the Crown Prince. At the Crown Prince’s direction, Niphon opposed Abhisit’s choice, GEN Patheep, in favor of the Crown Prince’s choice, GEN Chumpol Manmai. The inside story on why the Crown Prince wanted Chumpol so much, and risk criticism for intervening in a high level personnel choice against the evident wishes of the PM, is that Chumpol allegedly served as Thaksin’s bag man, personally delivering to the Crown Prince monies skimmed off the proceeds of the lotteries involved in the current court case. While such a story cannot be reported in the Thai media due to Lese Majeste concerns, the Crown Prince-Chumpol connection underscores the sense of lottery critics that Thaksin launched the lottery scheme to create a government slush fund which he could use to fund not only populist schemes like scholarships but also pet projects off the books for personal and political gain, without any accountability.

4. Khwankeo Vajarodaya to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years. His recently deceased brother, Keokhwan, was previously Grand Chamberlain.

5. Narongrid Snidvongs Na Ayuthaya to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years.

6. Jintana Chuensiri to be Grand Chamberlain for finance.

Has held this position for several years.

7. Songkram Supecharoen, M.D., to be Personal Physician to His Majesty the King.

Has held this position for several years.

8. Pol Gen Pongsak Rohitopakarn to be Grand Chamberlain.

Has held this position for several years.