The impunity trail

19 03 2018

The efforts of activists have seen some charges brought against fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoon and Black Leopard soup-loving Premchai Karnasuta. Of course, this is only a small step in the legal process, and we can expect to see delays, charge shedding and more as the police do deals that may still result in impunity.

That other scion of the fabulously wealthy – this time the Red Bull/Yoovidhya family – seems to have literally gotten away with murder.

It is reported that Interpol’s so-called Red Notice – a worldwide request to find and arrest an individual pending an extradition – for Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya”has disappeared from the Interpol website.”

It was unclear when the notice went missing “… [b]ut there was immediate speculation that powerful interests had intervened on Mr Vorayuth’s behalf.” The notice was on the Interpol website until recently, although a recent search produced no listing for Thailand in either red or yellow notices. We wondered if Thailand had changed its policy, but the report states: “Pol Col Kritsana [Pattanachareon ] confirmed that Thai police had not sought a change from ‘public’ to ‘restricted’ status for the notice.”

Interpol stated that:

… a published notice would be removed from its website if “the suspect has been arrested and extradited or died, the country which requested it has withdrawn its request, the judicial authorities in the country behind the notice have withdrawn the national arrest warrant against a suspect, the notice is the subject of an appeal, or the notice has been cancelled or the status of the notice has changed from public to restricted”.

As usual, Thai police dissembled: “Thai police spokesman Kritsana Pattanachareon said on Thursday Thai police had no idea why the notice was no longer there.” Kritsana continued (do compare with what Interpol says): “It’s entirely up to Interpol. We can’t intervene because each country has different laws…”. Buffalo manure piled high. Rich person free. Impunity rules.





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.)





Erasing the black leopard

5 03 2018

Boss of of Italian-Thai Premchai Karnasuta is a big deal in the business world, with impeccable connections (read his CV). For a while he was listed in the Forbes richest 50 for Thailand.

He’s used to getting his way and when he was caught red-handed poaching wildlife in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary it was something of a surprise. It was certainly a surprise for him as he’d have thought all his connections would have prevented any authorities getting too interested in his illegal hunting.

At the time, the press said he could face up to 28 years in jail. We said, let’s see, adding that like many of the big shots who get caught up in legal cases, the initial risk is that the case will be delayed and then go quiet.

For a while, it has been very quiet. Such quietness suggests wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes. The next news was that policeman involved in the case were being “disciplined.” Such transfers are also usually a sure sign of deals being done.

No doubt feeling more confident following all of the “negotiations,” Premchai finally appeared at a police station. That police station was Thong Pha Phum in Kanchanaburi province, some 250 km and a 3.5 hour drive from Bangkok. Who else took that journey? Reports, video and pictures show that Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul made the trip and “had a brief talk with Mr Premchai.”

If anyone was looking for evidence of how the behind-the-scenes dealing was being done, surely this was evidence of collusion. If not collusion with the highest levels of police, then it is evidence of others even more senior sending messages to an “underling” deputy national police chief. This is wheeling and dealing at the very highest level.

Then video emerged of the meeting between the tycoon and the deputy national police chief.

The clip shows Premchai initially wai-ing Pol Gen Srivara a wai. Srivara returns the wai, but “a few seconds later he repeated it by bowing low to Mr Premchai.” This gesture shows a junior giving respect to a senior. In other words, it is a display of a supplicant. Social media users were amazed and many pointed to this as yet another display of double standards in the legal system.

Further suggesting that Premchai has done some deals at very high levels, graffiti art of black leopards – one of Premchai’s hunted animals – appearing in Bangkok is being erased. Erasure demonstrates high-level collusion with the wealthy animal slaughterer.





Updated: Another rich crook disappears

13 02 2018

In a post when the poaching case of Italian-Thai construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta came to light, PPT commented that we know, from bitter experience, that rich people get away with much in Thailand. We added that the notorious Red Bull case is just one of many that shows that wealth can buy much and that connections to the powerful and the paying off of officials begets impunity.

We reckoned that illegal hunter Premchai’s case was something of a test for the junta’s (in)justice system.

Looks like the system might have failed within just a few days. As charges pile up, it seems that the police have lost Premchai. A Bangkok Post report states:

Pol Maj Gen Krisana Sapdej, deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 7, said officials of the Western Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary filed the complaint of animal cruelty on Monday.

As the whereabouts of Mr Premchai, president of Italian-Thai Development Plc, were not known, police would send a summons this week for him to report and acknowledge the new charge, he said.

More great police work.

Readers might like to delve into the Italian-Thai corporate website and Premchai a little. The company’s website has material on corporate social responsibility, ethics, environmental concerns and more.

Premchai seems in breach of all of them. We also downloaded the 2016 annual report. There, Premchai is listed as a director of dozens of companies in Thailand and overseas. Presumably he’s in breach of ethical requirements for many of these as well.

Update: Further on ethics and environmental practices, deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul is reported as saying that Premchai and his companies “might have encroached on forest land.” The police say Premchai “owns 147 plots totalling 6,215 rai of land through C.P.K. International Co Ltd in the form of Nor Sor 3 Kor land rights documents” in the upper northeast. Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Premchai’s ethics revolve around self-centered profit making, at any cost.





Military and monarchy as Siamese twins

10 12 2017

The Asia Times has another long commentary on Thailand’s political predicament by Shawn Crispin. There’s some interesting bits and pieces.

For one thing, it is stated that in “the lead-up to the cremation of … King Bhumibol …, authorities rounded up 42 suspects at check points around the royal ceremony…”. Further,

Rights groups and diplomats monitoring the arrests say the detained suspects likely face prosecution on national security-related charges for threatening the ceremony, including under the penal code’s harsh lese majeste provision that shields the royal family from defamation, insult and threat.

It is interesting that Crispin credits The Dictator “for steering a smooth succession from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn, a delicate transition many feared could spark instability.” To be honest, we think the “delicate transition” was a bit of a beat up.

The next royal big deal, he says, is “Vajiralongkorn’s formal coronation, now seen as astrologically auspicious to be held in March…”.

Crispin asks “how stable is the transition from royal old to new, and how serious is the threat posed by anti-monarchists supposedly lurking in the shadows?”

He notes that Vajiralongkorn “has set a tone for his reign in moves that diplomats and analysts say shows his intent to shake-up royal institutions in terms of personnel, protocol and operations.”

That’s somewhat bland for what he’s doing, which is erasing all notion of popular sovereignty in favor of a monarchy that is independent of all checks and balances introduced after 1932.

Crispin says that the “Royal Household Bureau has also openly targeted those found to have abused their palace positions or association for personal gain.”

That’s somewhat bland for what somewhat bland for what’s happened. Rather, the new king has been purging the palace and appointing his trusted allies.

One interesting observation is that “[c]hampions of the new reign say the housecleaning is overdue and that ill-deeds grew in the latter years of Bhumibol’s reign when he was hospitalized for ill-health.”

That’s what might be expected, but it is one of the first statements of the fact that the new reign is embedding in a manner that is essentially neo-feudal and that shifts political and economic power to the palace.

The notion that the new palace will “challenge the big business families that have long leveraged royal connections to corner sectors of the economy, a commercial domination that has grown since the 2014 coup” seems to come out of nowhere, but it is known that the king maintains relations with several Sino-Thai tycoons.

It isn’t clear to us that Vajiralongkorn taking “full control of the Crown Property Bureau …[and] the board of the palace’s Royal Project Foundation,” seems like him establishing his dominance and lining his pockets rather than a challenge to the big tycoons.

Crispin is correct to note that the military junta has “unquestioningly” done the palace’s bidding, but adds a note:

Thailand’s military and monarchy have long had a symbiotic relationship, with the former sworn to the protection of the latter, but the new emerging balance between the two powerful institutions is still being determined under Vajiralongkorn’s young new reign.

Both General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king are self-centered and erratic, leading to concerns that the two may clash.

Crispin is also on the money when he notes that the king is asserting authority of Bangkok-based military units, He refers to the “absorption of military combat units, including the First Region Command’s First Infantry Division, a top-fighting force, into the king’s personal guard.”

That division “was recently moved from the military’s main command in Bangkok to Vajiralongkorn’s secondary Tawee Wattana palace on the capital’s outskirts, with certain soldiers transferred upcountry.”

On the transition to an “elected” government, Crispin observes the junta’s reluctance and suggests that “anti-monarchy elements remain bent on undermining the royal institution…” may be a “reason” for further “election” delays. at a still uncertain juncture of the succession.

He reckons that there are 1,000 lese majeste complaints “still under police investigation…”. That’s a whole lot of anti-monarchists and a whole lot of justification for ongoing military repression.

For the moment, the junta and the king remain joined as Siamese twins in neo-feudal repression.





Junta learning from China

31 10 2017

Over the years, there have been efforts to suggest that various Thai leaders in politics and the economy have turned to China in part for reasons of ethnic loyalty. Certainly, several Thai leaders have been of Chinese extraction and some Sino-Thai tycoons at CP and the Bangkok Bank (to name just two) have been early and long active in “giving back.”

But what does this mean in practice, especially when China’s economic rise has been noticeable for decades and its political sway has been increasing for some time? And, consider that almost all of Thailand’s wealthiest, including the dead king, were Sino-Thai. Chineseness has seldom been a hot political issue since Phibun’s time and a period when the OSS/CIA were worried about the “overseas Chinese” as a “fifth column” for Chinese communism.

The most recent effort we can recall was by Sondhi Limthongkul, in some accounts claimed to be China-born and the son of a Kuomintang general. Back in the days when the People’s Alliance for Democracy – dominated by Sino-Thais of the Bangkok middle class – declared that they too were loyal to the nation (and the monarchy).

When we look at the current military dictatorship, for some time shunned by the U.S. and by some major countries in Europe, the draw of China became important. While on a well-worn path, where China was already a major trading partner, the significance of China rose substantially for the regime as it sought to arm and boost the economy. But one of the attractions does seem to be, as one academic has it, mutual authoritarianism.

But we don’t think we have ever seen such an enthusiastic embrace as that provided by the junta’s 4th generation Sino-Thai Wissanu Krea-ngam in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency on the day the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded.

Speaking of the amendment to the CPC Constitution that made “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era a new component of the party’s guide for action,” Wissanu was enthusiastic, declaring:

Xi’s thought makes “Chinese characteristics” more prominent, the Thai deputy prime minister said.

He praised China for being very good at accomplishing its goals efficiently as can be proved by the anti-corruption campaign that started five years ago.

He said he believes that the new goals set at the 19th CPC National Congress will be accomplished as before.

“The Chinese set long-term goals and ask people to do it together. That is something we can learn from, as we are also working on a 20-year national strategy to guide the development of Thailand,” Wissanu said.

“It is just magical that we have consistent policies or strategies as China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. We have Thailand 4.0 and ASEAN … has ASEAN Connectivity,” Wissanu said, adding that China and Thailand can still find a lot of aspects to cooperate in the future.

Maybe he’s just noticing economic opportunities? But those have been evident for decades. Wissanu seems attracted by the Chinese model of marrying authoritarianism with markets. That seems pretty close to the junta’s aims.

 





On using funerals

26 10 2017

PPT has previously posted on the military dictatorship’s use of the dead king’s funeral for its political promotion, including neglecting huge flooding, except for diverting waters away from Bangkok, fearful that floods at the time of the funeral will be seen as inauspicious and will be a black mark on the regime. Flooding farmers for months seems a “sacrifice” the dictatorship demands.

Belatedly, the (new) king is also making PR of the event. He’s declaring himself a monarch concerned for his people. Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart is just one more official over the last few days who has spoken of the king’s “concern.” This time he’s “worried” about “mourners having to endure strong sunlight during the day that could be compounded by heat rising from the concrete pavements.” Magically, mats appeared!

The General says the king has “instructed officials to treat them nicely, not to scold them and not to be too strict…”. (So has The Dictator.)

But fears for the future continue to fester. Some royalists, like Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post writes of “fear and trepidation about the future.” She asserts that a “question is hanging heavy in many people’s minds: What will happen now the country’s last unifying force has gone?”

One might question why Thais should be anxious now. A king dying in a constitutional monarchy should be pretty much meaningless in terms of the nation’s future. But Thailand’s last king and his supporters, especially those in the business class and the military, were anything but constitutional and they propagandized so assiduously that a “fear” has been created. Making out that the dead king was “god-like” and a symbol of unity was so powerful because the state, at least since 1958 and even more heavily since the late 1970s, hammered it in cinemas, on state radio and television, in school and university texts.

The lese majeste law and “social sanction” allowed little thinking outside the approved narrative except in periods of democratization in the 1970s and 2000s, both periods shut down by military coup and repression, always supported by the palace. So when Sanitsuda says that “[g]rief has the power to plunge us into a dark pit of hopelessness,” it is all palace and elite-inflicted.

Yet Sanitsuda seems to mean another fear. The fear of King Vajiralongkorn and his reign. She simply doesn’t mention him and leans on the elite hope that Princess Sirindhorn will “rescue” Thais and the elite from a king they fear as dangerous, grasping and erratic. They hope her propaganda can fill the void created by the death of the king.

Sanitsuda and the elite buy the palace propaganda that Sirindhorn is the one most like her father, lodged in a dysfunctional family that for many years has looked like something between The Addams Family and The Munsters but without much family togetherness or the good humor of those television families.

Now that the eldest brother is on the throne, the elite is hoping that they might follow Sirindhorn as propaganda piece while hoping the brother will not be too much trouble.

Some of the problems Sanitsuda identifies for Thailand seem surgically removed from the legacy of the dead king. While it is said that one should not speak ill of the dead, it is an act of ideological gymnastics to allocate good points to him without looking at his and the palace’s role in these issues and problems.

For all of the guff about the dead king’s work for the people, “wealth disparity in Thailand is among the worst in the world. The third-worst, to be specific.” But don’t blame him for that. In fact, though, as wealth disparities have increased, the monarchy became the wealthiest on Earth. The Sino-Thai capitalists attached to the palace and pouring money into it also became hugely wealthy.

But don’t blame the dead king or the system in which the monarchy was the keystone. Just go on repeating the propaganda that is a fairy tale that permits the elite to ignore the things that benefit them (and the palace): corruption, political repression, exploitation, impunity, state murder and more. The elite’s fingers are crossed that the new king can continue this system without draining off more than an acceptable share. The other side of that coin is the eulogizing of his sister as the dead king’s replacement in the propaganda game. After all, if the propaganda cannot be continued, the whole system of exploitation, repression and vast wealth will be threatened.