Journalists do the state’s work

18 08 2017

The Associated Press’s report on Red Bull family is worth reading in full. It is getting considerable international attention for issues of tax avoidance and the unaccountable power that comes from great wealth in Thailand (and elsewhere).

We won’t repeat it all here. We do recall that, back in May,

“Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the suspect in a brutal hit-and-run case in which a police officer was killed, gave authorities the slip once again by leaving Thailand for an unknown destination on April 25, just two days before he was due to answer charges over the 2012 incident.”

Five years after the allegedly coked-up and drunk rich kid ran over a cop and drove off, dragging the body along, to hide from the law in his gated and guarded family home. Lawyers and fixers got to work.

Five years have produced no justice. How can that be? Vorayuth lived the high life around the world as he avoided justice. Some police and others with power in Thailand were obviously complicit.

PPT said that this case demonstrated how Thailand’s (in)justice system doesn’t work, except for the junta when it wanted to lock up the poor and political opponents.

Vorayuth’s flight and high life around the world was revealed by AP (not the Thai authorities) back in March. It was AP researchers and reporters who tracked him down in London.

Why is it that journalists do this investigations while Thailand’s leaders and state agencies remain silent.

AP’s pursuit of the Red Bull killer and the continuing (manufactured) failure of the Thai authorities to track down a scion of one of Thailand’s richest ($12.5 billion) and most influential families has led to the latest AP story.

Thai authorities will probably now issue statements about how they have been “investigating,” but then go back to their legal slumber, induced by the influential.

AP has trawled the Panama Papers for this story and investigated the Yoovidhya family’s secret money trail, its tax avoidance minimization and its extraordinary efforts to conceal all of this. Their concealing of ownership even baffled Mossack Fonseca, the company that managed its international transfers and concealing.

On Thailand’s failures, the AP story makes that wider than just the Red Bull family:

While other governments were swift and aggressive in responding to Panama Papers revelations, that has not been the case in Thailand. More than 1,400 Thai individuals were identified in the documents, but the government calls the reports rumors with no evidence.

Last year, Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office said it was investigating more than a dozen of those individuals — unnamed current and former politicians and business people. To date, that office has not reported any crimes, however, and it would not answer AP’s questions.

The rich and powerful in Thailand can get away with murder. Readers will soon realize just how scary these plutocrats can be when the AP story interviews Viraphong Boonyobhas, the director of Chulalongkorn University’s business crime and money-laundering databank. It is added:

Viraphong would not speak directly about the Yoovidhyas or any other Thai person or company, saying he feared for his legal and physical safety, but added that his expectations for accountability in the military-run government are low.

Thai authorities have vowed to fight corruption, but “wealthy people in Thailand are influential people,” Viraphong said. “Maybe the government can’t untangle such a complicated network.”

That’s a story about how Thailand is actually run. The whole system is not just built on double standards, but is structured to funnel wealth to the top Sino-Thai tycoons through corrupt military and bureaucratic machinery that, for a fee and reflected “barami,” covers money trails. Ideological devices associated with the obscenely rich monarchy are in place to make the greedy appear among the “good” people who slosh about in troughs of money.





Repression and the nature of dictatorship

23 07 2017

About a week ago we posted on the statement by 176 of the 500 or so academics who attended the International Conference on Thai Studies. Later, we posted on how the military junta’s thugs could not ignore the “challenge” posed by the academics and their mild call for the return of freedom of expression.

According to a Bangkok Post editorial, the testy dictatorial regime can’t help itself in “responding”with negatives. It is its nature as a dictatorship.

That Army chief Chalermchai Sittisart has dismissed the academic call “comes as no surprise.” As the Post states: “His response perfectly reflects the military regime’s unreasonable fear and outrageous blockade of ‘different’ opinions.”

We have occasionally agreed that the junta is fearful of losing its power but we think the political repression is the nature of the dictatorship.

The “[m]any people [who] have been harassed, threatened, arrested and detained…” is the way a dictatorship deals with anyone considered “oppositional.”

The academics “asked” the junta to “give people back the freedom to express their opinions without fear of punishment or reprisal.”

It also asked they be granted full and free access to information and facts, and that prisoners of conscience — those jailed for their religious, political or other views — be released from jail or detention, among other issues.

None of this is going to happen under a military dictatorship.

Indeed, “at the Chiang Mai conference,” the junta had “[p]lainclothes officers record… who was in attendance and what they discussed.”

From Ugly Thailand

There can be no academic freedom and no freedom of speech. Indeed, the Post says, “Thai society has fallen under strict military control.”

We’d say it didn’t “fall” under military control. In fact, it was a planned military coup, planned by the current junta and coordinated with its tycoon, royalist and anti-democrat allies. Those groups don’t want a “democratic” politics that they are not sure that they can control.

Where the Post goes seriously wrong is in thinking that “democracy looms after the promised elections next year.” What looms is years of elite, royalist and military control of politics camouflaged as an electoral “democracy.”

After all, that was the very point of the coup in 2014.





Updated: Trains, land and all that money

18 06 2017

PPT likes trains. We like public transport generally. We acknowledge that Thailand’s public infrastructure has been neglected and that many of the public transport developments that have taken place have been for the middle class in Bangkok. When it comes to rail other than the subway and skytrain, the infrastructure is a crumbling mess.

In short, rail links to the region and across Thailand can have considerable benefits. That was illustrated, in part, by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime wanted a rail link to China. It is why the Yingluck Shinawatra government established a high-powered team investigating and seeking to move the project forward.

So what is the military dictatorship up to?

As we know, after years of failing negotiations with the Chinese, The Dictator has used Article 44 “to expedite the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima and enable work to begin this year.”

Only between Bangkok and Korat and high-speed. That means, so far, no links regionally and suggests a passenger service. It also doesn’t say what “high speed” means. But because the military junta is doing it, precious few details are available.

The junta’s decree “aims to clear technical and legal problems for the delayed 252-kilometre railway.”

It is a remarkable decree in that it “instructs the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the construction of the Thai-Chinese railway.”

That Chinese company “will oversee the design of the railway infrastructure as well as rail and electrical systems. It will serve as an adviser for the project’s construction and provide training in system-related knowledge for the project staff.”

In other words, the junta is establishing a kind of Chinese monopoly for Thailand on this huge project. It is not just rail because all such projects are also about land. (Yes, we know other contracts for other lines have been considered with the Japanese.)

The contract “must be ready within 120 days,” suggesting that there’s already a preferred contractor. After that, “Thailand and China would then be able to sign an agreement for the design contract…”.

As Khaosod says, using Article 44 will “remove all legal obstacles preventing China from taking charge of every step in the construction of the high-speed railway project.” It says ten “relevant laws and junta orders involving government procurement…”. It also said that “Chinese engineers and architects are also exempted from professional licensing requirements.”

Interestingly, the use of Article 44 “shielded the project from going out to international bidders and exempted it from a mandatory process to estimate costs.” The order states that an “unspecified amount of funds [is] to be approved by the interim cabinet.”

The order would also “allow construction to take place on protected lands…”.

What isn’t stated is that the line will involve the compulsory acquisition of land from landholders and will gobble up land that was previously allocated with limited title, exactly the kind of land the junta has been so agitated about in other areas such as national parks.

That Dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha is “due to visit China to attend the ninth BRICS Summit in September,” might add something to the use of Article 44, recalling that he wasn’t invited to a recent meeting in China, seen as a snub.

Another Bangkok Post report has the World Bank urging “the Thai government to hold an open bidding for the long-delayed Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima to ensure transparency.”

Transparency may be important but it won’t happen in this project, just as it hasn’t in all major projects and purchases by the junta. Most infrastructure projects involve 30-40% “commission” payments. Junta-related interests are salivating.

And the land! So much land! It will be appropriated and then rented or sold to the tycoons for all kinds of projects that will further enrich them.

Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey grumbles that the use of Article 44 by a “caretaker” regime is wrong: “In any given scenario the job of the caretaker government is to look at maintaining the status quo and not undertake major policies that involve committing the country’s resources for years if not decades to come…”.

He keeps forgetting that this is a military dictatorship and that it has no intention of fading away.

He asks: “who is going to be responsible for the transparency of the multi-billion-dollar project.” The idea is that wealth generation for the few is built on monopolies and opaque arrangements. That’s Thailand’s history, and not just under juntas.

And Umesh notes that The Dictator’s order also “silences opposition to any project, overriding the system of checks and balances that would make sure Thailand gets the best deal.”

Thailand is a loose concept. We know from wealth data and from details about the unusually rich who gets the best deal. And they define themselves as “Thailand.”

Umesh continues: “People like myself are all for the project but I wonder how clean the process is going to be, especially as rumours swirl of kickbacks to contractors.”

He isn’t wondering, he knows. Then he raises another point:

Then there is the issue of a possible election late next year. As any economist would tell you, the time between green-lighting a project and seeing the money flow in can be anywhere from nine to 12 months — around the time the election is expected.

Is that a coincidence? Certainly, signs of economic growth right before the polls could be an advantage to some.

We remain unconvinced about an “election,” but we see his point. But what of the land? All that land.

Update: Prachatai has two stories on the train line, one that is about middle-class concerns regarding safety where professionals raise this issue. The other is interesting in that in a review of the week, it raises the issue of the use of Article 44 to create “extraterritoriality,” but only in the title. It is an interesting issue and harks back to the decades it took to roll back the extraterritoriality enshrined in the Bowring Treaty.





Bored witless

15 06 2017

Forgive us, we are bored by the military dictatorship. It is so, so predictable and so pathetic that we are considering banning it using Article 44.

How predictable? Its like putting a sexy dancer in front of a sexy young dancer. You know how he will behave. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

How about the things that are hidden under nothing happening here-ness?

What about that poor kid shot by soldiers in the north. Nothing. Keep quiet and it won’t go anywhere.

How about the Rolls Royce and related corruption? Ignore it and the media will forget it.

What about police generals being paid by the richest guys in the country to smooth things for them. That isn’t even illegal!

And what about all those unusually wealthy members of the puppet assembly? Not even worth mentioning. That’s just normal corruption and the great and good harvesting their due.

We could go on and on. This regime is corrupt, like many of those regimes before it. But because they are rightist royalists, they are just fine for Thailand’s elite and middle classes.

Well, let’s go on a bit more.

Lese majeste? Hundreds of cases to both shut the activists up and to launder the king’s dirty underwear.

The junta reckons most Thais are stupid, and treats them as such, assessing that they haven’t a clue about democracy and are easily pushed around. A few threats can easily shut them up.

How about those pesky politicians? You know, the bad ones (because they are associated with that devil Thaksin Shinawatra). How many ways can they be repressed. Like all murderous, torturing military regime, the possibilities are many. How about charging them with corruption? That should gag that Watana guy from the Puea Thai Party who keeps saying nasty things about the middle-class cuddly dictatorship.

It irks The Dictator that Puea Thai types are still popping up. Ban them, ban their books, silence them. No debate with these guys.

While the junta is in power, its is almost genetically programmed to buy military toys from Chinese submarines to Chinese armored personal carriers (with the white sidewalls option, they should look stunning running over civilian protesters).

And while talking of Chinese, why not use Article 44 so that all of the land near the proposed railway tracks to link Thailand with China can be taken off poor farmers and become the accumulated wealth of Sino-Thai tycoons and their military allies. Money will fall line rain in the wet season into the already overflowing coffers of the rich and powerful.

It is so predictable it is now boring. What next? The Dictator campaigning for “election”? Yes, that’s already happening.

What about fixing the “election”? That’s a check. Even that anti-election Election Commission can’t be trusted, probably because they are all so thick and need ordering around, so replace them with people who can work out what needs to be corrupted without having to be ordered.

How many more years of this boring nothingness? We reckon the record is about 16 years. The current junta is aiming for 20. Only 16 and a few months to go.

And, an “election” won’t change all of this. It is embedded deeply into the fabric of administration.

It will take a lot of careful undoing when the people get a chance or take a chance.





Corrected: The tycoons and the junta

3 06 2017

This is a corrected post. We became aware that the search function we used at Forbes to list Thailand’s tycoons returned something other than a full list. We have now located a more reliable list at Forbes and have rewritten the post based on the correct data. Thanks to a reader for questioning us about the data, causing us to go back to the source.

At the same time, we remain cautious about the data given that the totals in the global list do not exactly match those in the Thailand list.

There’s been a lot of talk about the military dictatorship having done little for the economy. One group is benefiting. That’s the junta and its allies in state enterprises, those on the take, those raking in commissions and the various puppet appointments. But their takings, while huge by the standards of the average Thai, are not the measure of how the tycoons are doing.

That group are the richest Thais, mostly the Sino-Thai tycoons and a couple of foreigners who have made their fortune in Thailand.When we had the wrong data, we indicated that the wealth of the top 10 had decreased. This is corrected in the table below, showing a very large increase in wealth.

We know this from the listing in Forbes of the world’s US dollar billionaires and, now, from the list of Thailand’s billionaires. Over the years, we have listed the top 10, so we are sticking with that so that a comparison can be made.

The table compares 2014 wealth (Forbes 2015) and the year of the coup and the 2016 figures (Forbes 2017).

The totals for the top 10 show that their combined wealth has increased by almost $16 billion. The top two families have increased by more than $9billion.

When we had the data wrong we asked: How long will these economic whales put up with a military dictatorship that delivers economic decline? Now that the data has reversed the position, we can only imagine that the tycoons are loving the junta.





Tax evaders, tycoons and the palace

3 04 2017

When the subject of tax comes up, one thing can always be taken for granted in Thailand: the elite will not lose anything for they are skilled tax minimizers and evaders.

In the Bangkok Post to day there are a couple of stories that can be brought together. First, we have news that “[e]vading taxes worth 10 million baht or more, or fraudulently filing for tax refunds of 2 million baht or more through collusion, shall be considered a money-laundering offence…” under a new law.

The notion that tax evasion is money laundering strikes us as strange, but you get the picture. The tax authorities want to be seen as going after tax evaders, something they have never done much of in the past, except in politicized cases.

So, we should see the Revenue Department go after “politicians” from previous regimes. We should also expect that the Department will examine the taxation records of the unusually wealthy who report huge wealth when they get junta perk positions. We can be pretty certain none of them paid tax on it.

That set us thinking. What about Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang? He is now head of the Thailand Football Association,  had long business relationships with mining companies, and at the time of his retirement as Thailand’s top cop, was one of its wealthiest policemen. Somyos was known to have ordered police to support companies he had previously worked with. He was so wealthy that he gave rewards to cops out of his own bag of money. Has he ever been taxed?

We can also wonder whether the 50,000 baht a month that was claimed and then unclaimed as income by metropolitan police chief Pol. Lt. Gen. Sanit Mahathavorn  was ever taxed? The lucky Sanit was on the payroll of the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc owned by one of Thailand’s wealthiest Sino-Thai tycoons, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. Sanit’s total income was also claimed to be mammoth. Was that taxed?

While on companies and wealth, we wonder how much tax is paid by Charoen and his other fabulously wealthy fellow tycoons? They get great business deals from the corrupt state and from their unusual relationships, but how much do they “give back”? And we don’t mean the piddling corporate social responsibility ruses, we mean real tax.

Readers might recall the contract for the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center which went, without going to a bid or to any significant renegotiation, to N.C.C. Management & Development Co., a company in the gargantuan business empire of Charoen, reputedly worth almost $14 billion. Naturally, he’s also close to the palace.

Which brings us to another Bangkok Post story. Charoen has revealed “plans to develop a new mixed-use project to be called ‘One Bangkok’ on the 104-rai of land that formerly housed Suan Lum Night Bazaar on the corner of Witthayu and Rama IV roads.”

It seems odd that the “development will be joint venture by two companies owned by Mr Charoen, TCC Assets (Thailand) Co and Frasers Centrepoint Limited (FCL).” There must be a tax deal there somewhere.

The mammoth development will be on a lease the “TCC Group secured … from the Crown Property Bureau in 2014.”

Before the site was the Suan Lum Night Bazaar from 2001 to 2011, it was the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, established in 1958 “next to Lumphini Park in Bangkok…”. It moved in 2000, and allowed the tacky Night Bazaar to be built. Now, how did that land get back to the CPB? Was the military paying a peppercorn rent? Or was it “returned” to the CPB as so many other properties were. Did the CPB pay any taxes?

These deals can be exceptionally lucrative. Princess Sirindhorn is estimated to personally rake in about $54 million a year from the property she owns around the Siam-Rajaprasong area, and we know she isn’t paying tax.

Tycoons as royalists and royals, along with their helpers in the senior reaches of the civil and military bureaucracies don’t ever seem to be “threatened” with taxation.





All about the law I

29 03 2017

The media is awash with stories about law. How the rich use it for their benefit or avoid it. How the junta uses it. How the police and military manipulate it. We will just link with some of these, grab some quotes and make some comments.

Law for the rich: It is all about Red Bull heir and cop killer Vorayudh “Boss” Yoovidhya. This story and his “hiding in plain sight” avoidance of responsibility for his drug and booze addled killing of a cop has been around since 2012. In the time since, he’s ignored the cops, probably paid some of them off, paid off the cop’s family with meager “compensation” (also known as blood money) and lived what AP called “the high life” in the resorts of the world. He’s partied with the same crowd he has always been with, the rich, the “good” and the famous. His 400+ photos of his good and expensive life are at Facebook.

We can only wonder why it took AP to do the work of finding him. Not the cops (who lost one of their own). Not the prosecutors. Not even Thailand’s media. Why is that? Money, huge influence and power are, like a military regime, threatening. Hired thugs often do the dirty work for Thailand’s Sino-Thai tycoons, so few are prepared to challenge any of them.

And, oh yes, he is due to “appear” before prosecutors. As the Bangkok Post states, this spoiled rich untouchable “has been repeatedly summoned to face authorities but he avoided it each time, claiming [that should read “lying”] through his lawyer that he was sick or out of the country on business.”

Law and the junta I: Thaksin Shinawatra is not short of a baht. In fact, a previous court decision extracted about $1.4 billion from him in 2010, representing more than half of the assets the state had frozen. No matter what one thinks of that decision, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this decision made sure that the state got back what it thought necessary.

It seems not, for the junta has decided to suck back more of Thaksin’s money. In fact, another $510 million in “tax.” Of course, this is a part of the junta’s paranoia about Thaksin and political opposition. It is also meant to scratch the junta’s anti-election itch about voting being about money paid for each vote received.

Law and the junta II: While on Thaksin and hobbling the Shinawatra clan, the junta’s minions have closed Voice TV for a few days for daring to report on things that make the military dictatorship uncomfortable. The Thai Journalists Association and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association have generally been dominated by yellow-shirted journalists and media entrepreneurs, but even they feel the threat from the junta.

Two media associations have “called on the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission … to review its committee’s order to black out Voice TV’s broadcasts for seven days, saying it harms media freedom.” They also determined that the NBTC’s decision “conflicts with both the 1997 and 2006 constitutions, which safeguard those in the media who deliver news or opinions in compliance with their career ethics.”

Such calls have no impact on the military dictatorship because it has “law” in its holster.

Law for the politically connected: Anti-democrat and military junta-supporting Suthep Thaugsuban leads a charmed legal life, at least under the junta. He’s broken more laws than anyone could keep count of and gotten off  every  charge he’s faced (that we can recall) under the military junta he worked with and helped bring to power (or never even been charged). Having something in common with the Red Bull fugitive, he even got away with murder. But that’s not unusual in Thailand…

This time, in a case where he was accused of defaming leading members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship who were standing for election, accusing them of arson and other crimes, a politicized court ruled “Suthep had not made false accusations against the three UDD leaders as alleged, and dismissed the case against him.” Thailand’s judiciary simply fails to dispense anything resembling justice when it comes to the politically-connected and powerful.

Then there’s the case of ultra-nationalist and anti-democrat Veera Somkwamkid who toddled off to the Thailand-Cambodia birder to check on casino graft. Locals blocked his visit yet PPT couldn’t help but recall that it was only about two weeks ago that The Nation reported that “[p]olice are launching a manhunt for well-known political activist Veera … after he published an opinion survey’s result on his Facebook wall, saying the majority people lack confidence in the Prayut administration.” So there he was, ath the border, surrounded by cops and troops and … well, nothing.

Law, police and military: We saved the grossest and nastiest stories. These are the reports surrounding the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae, struck down with a single shot by the Army. The stories from the authorities on this case have been banal. Accused of drug dealing, being armed with a knife and a grenade, the dead boy is now accused of somehow having a gun because the police chief says Chaiyapoom could have shot officers.

A slip of the tongue perhaps, but this is what happens when the authorities manufacture excuses for their own crimes.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Convinced that the lad was a drug dealer and claiming that the CCTV footage backs up the official story, the cops refuse to release the footage because … wait for it … “the controversial evidence does not ‘answer all problems’.” In addition, “[r]eleasing the footage might lead to a mess to the investigation process and arguments among the society.”

What next?

The law has never been particularly impartial and judges have never been much good in Thailand. However, under the influence of the monarchy and under this military dictatorship the law has been ransacked, killed and buried.