Updated: Panama papers II

6 04 2016

We continue to look for data on Thailand in the Panama Papers. So far we aren’t having too much luck. We were, however, reminded of an earlier report of some 600 Thais stashing loot overseas.

That 2013 report, also from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, included Pojaman Shinawatra, Nalinee Taveesin, Bhanapot Damapong, members of the Chirathivat family, Yuenyong Opakul, and note this very carefully, the Vongkusolkit family and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian.

The latter was described as “the former deputy permanent secretary of defense, who is listed as one of many shareholders in the British Virgin Islands company Vnet Capital International Co., Ltd in 1998” with 2006 coup connections and who is described in a Wikileaks cable as an acolyte of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda.

On the new release of leaks from Mossack Fonseca, the main new report we have seen was in the Bangkok Post. It states that the “Office of the Auditor-General has weighed in on the so-called Panama Papers, asking the Revenue Department to look into tax payment records of Thai nationals named in a list of people allegedly using a Panama-based law firm for offshore holdings.”moneybags 1

Yet, as might be expected in a country that is protective of its wealthy elites and ruled by a military junta, a cover-up seems likely, unless the junta can come across the names of those it sees as political opponents. At the moment, “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and the business community are urging the public not to rush to conclusions and let regulators verify the information first.”

“Verify” sounds like “cover-up” or “manipulate.”

Like the rich everywhere, the first bleat refers to law rather than ethics: “… using offshore company structures is a normal and legal business practice.” Not paying tax is legal they say. In Thailand, tax, like so many other things, is malleable and politicized.

Recall that Thaksin Shinawatra’s sale of the Shin Corp involved tax havens. While he didn’t have to pay tax on the transfers in Thailand, there was an outcry over this, and the opposition to him was strengthened. Now, it seems, things are to be reversed. So much for Buddhist ethics and the “good” of “The Good People.”

The report says there are “almost 400 Thais among 780 individuals who used Thailand as a residence and 50 companies were named on the lists.” While it is stated that “[p]rominent names include well-known business people, politicians, a former military officer and celebrities…”, only a few names are named.

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) observes, “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts and it does not intend to suggest or imply that those named in the leak have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

General Paiboon said “… the leak is not verified information. But once it’s verified, no one can dodge an investigation. So let Amlo [Anti-Money Laundering Office] work on this first…”.

Our question is: Where are Thailand’s journalists who should be working on this? In most other countries, journalists are pouring out stories.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas says “he has seen the list and had proceeded to ask the tax authority to review tax records to detect any possible wrongdoing.” He names no names.

Pisit also suggested that the “Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) can facilitate the probe by acting as a coordinator as it is the hub of 11 anti-corruption agencies.” Some of this group and Pisit were recently part of another cover-up, finding no corruption in the military’s Rajabhakti Park, while making “commissions” acceptable.

Now to some of the names and what they say.

Isara

Isara

One name in the Panama Papers is Isara Vongkusolkit, who is chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. His response was to say that “he did not know and had noting to do with Mossack Fonseca. He was wondering how his name was mentioned on the lists.” Wondering? Really? He doesn’t remember the 2013 report?

He did admit that offshore banking and companies were necessary to avoid taxation in Thailand. He then went on to blame government for tax avoidance because it has had “high” tax rates!

The Vongkusolkit family maintains a tight set of relationships. One Chanin Vongkusolkit is a member of the Council of the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption (CAC), which is:

an initiative by the Thai private sector to take parts in tackling corruption problem via collective action. The CAC aims to bring effective anti-corruption policy and mechanism into implementation by companies in order to create an ecosystem of clean business community.

Forbes says this of Isara and family:

To offset volatility in sugar prices, Isara Vongkusolkit’s privately held Mitr Phol Sugar, Thailand’s largest sugar producer, is expanding its energy business, which generates 400 megawatts of electricity, half for its own consumption. The company, which recently faced allegations of human rights abuses and illegal land- grabbing in Cambodia, said it was in discussions with the Cambodian government about its concessions. Brother Chanin stepped down as CEO of family’s Banpu, the country’s biggest coal miner, after running it for more than 3 decades.

Chanin remains on the Banpu Board of Directors. Others from the family on the Board are Buntoeng and Verajet Vongkusolkit. Australia’s controversial Centennial Coal Centennial is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banpu.

Banpong

Banpong

The point seems to be that Isara and his family are fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons and like their ilk everywhere, seek to “minimize” tax while claiming to engage in ethical business behavior, if that is not an oxymoron.

Another listed is “Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Capital and a member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission, posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was taken aback that his name was on the list.” Like Isara, he claims to not know Mossack Fonseca: “I have just learned of the company today and I never contacted or did any business with Mossack Fonseca…”.

Schultz

Schultz

We are reminded of Sgt. Schultz, again and again. How many times can “I know nothing” be used?

Patra Capital is a “certified” company at the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption and Phatra Capital promulgates a Code of Ethics for Directors, Officers and Employees. In part, it states:

By adhering to exemplary standards and conducting our business with excellence and integrity, we enhance our reputation and cultivate the growth of our business. All of us must take personal responsibility for conducting ourselves in a way that reflects positively on the Capital Market Business Group and with the letter and spirit of the Guidelines for Business Conduct.

Like many of Thailand’s tycoons, Banpong has royal links, his with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. He is also a member of the junta-created Superboard, which is said to be “overseeing all state enterprises has the stated aim of getting them all moving in the same direction towards strength and efficiency.” A Superboard of bankers, coal miners and more means endless conflicts of interest.

Both the Vongkusolkit and Pongpanich families are represented on the Board of Trustees of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute, which has often commented on corruption and ethics in Thailand’s politics.

Bannawit

Bannawit

The last Sgt. Schultz excuse came from Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. The “former deputy defence permanent secretary, whose name is also on the lists, said this came as a surprise to him…. According to the retired officer he never conducted any business transactions overseas or given permission to anyone to use his name to set up offshore accounts.”

Bannawit has appeared previously at PPT as one of “Dad’s Army,” which was an elite forerunner to the more popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee in trying to bring down the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was a member of several other yellow-shirted and royalist groups that sought to create conflict with the Yingluck government. Earlier, he was previously a member of the assembly appointed by the junta in 2006 and then caused controversy when deputy defense minister. He was not averse to very odd and racist claims when opposing red shirts.

Bannawit also seems to have conveniently forgotten the 2013 leaks from the British Virgin Islands. Or perhaps the rich and powerful expect the junta to enforce collective amnesia on the country.

Update: Khaosod has cast doubt on the Bangkok Post story, above, saying that the newspaper (and many others) confused the 2013 leak with the Panama Papers. INterestingly, whether its 2013 or now, nothing in our post would seem in need of change.





“May the dictatorship be destroyed”

18 02 2016

We are late getting to this report from Isaan Record. Yet it deserves attention.

On 7 February, the Udon Thani Environment Conservation Group organized an anti-mine protest opposing yet another potash-mining project.

Of course, when the thugs at the local Army base got wind of this, they belched and fumed about politicization. Officers from the 23rd Military Circle Command summoned six members of the group for an “attitude adjustment” session at the Prajak Silpakhom military camp.

The military gangs are usually concerned about these kinds of protests because they are partners or “employees” of the equally thuggish mining companies. These are corrupt relationships, providing funds for the officers and their higher-ups. It can be lucrative. Think of the large stash held by Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang, who was connected to mining companies. He’s now moved on to another notoriously corrupt position in football, backed by Sino-Thai tycoons.

But back to the Udon Thani case. The Army officers claimed that the environmental group  was in trouble because they had “read out a statement including the phrase ‘may the dictatorship be destroyed’…”. This required “attitude adjustment.” They called in six they identified as “leaders.”

To the surprise of the Army thugs, “about 100 village supporters of the Udon Thani Environment Conservation Group gathered in front of the Prajak Silpakhom military camp and demanded to be allowed to enter the premises.”

Eventually the military allowed “nine representatives of the group entered the military camp, while the crowd of villagers … waited outside.”

Reportedly, the officers “told the nine representatives that their protest movement was not banned, but asked them to refrain from using slogans that included the word ‘dictatorship’ because this could anger high-ranking military members.”

Odd indeed, as we thought the military junta actually enjoys being a dictatorship.

Anyway, seemingly worried by the massing of these scary villagers and after “the nine activists agreed to provide their home address and have a group photo taken with the military officers,” the Army “personnel distributed blankets in a move to appease the villagers.”

There’s a lesson in this.





Avoiding tax

3 02 2016

We are late with this post, but want to draw attention to yet more tax avoidance by Thailand’s tycoons. Of course, the rich in Thailand don’t pay much tax (nor, it seems, do they anywhere else – e.g. Britain, Australia, US, Malaysia).

As reported at the Bangkok Post, the Ministry of Finance has inheritance and gift taxes in place from 1 February. A tax on those making gifts while still alive, this move has been anticipated for some time, with the tax ranging between 5 and 10% on transfers exceeding either 20 million or 100 million baht, depending on the relationships between the parties involved. The report states that spouses remain exempt.

According to the Post, this anticipation has caused a wave of transfers meant to beat the 1 February deadline. It states that:

… [s]hares worth nearly 80 billion baht have been transferred by affluent Thais to their heirs before the introduction of inheritance and gift taxes…. Executives and major shareholders of more than 160 listed companies transferred their shares to children, spouses, parents, siblings, cousins and holding companies from July 2014 to last Friday, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reports on changes of executives’ securities holdings.

Tax

A Bangkok Post graphic

The Post has a useful graphic that we have clipped and added to the right.

The assets subject to the tax “include property, securities such as treasury bills, bonds, shares and debentures as well as investment units, deposits, registered vehicles and financial assets to be described in royal decrees.”

The list of those transferring stock in order to avoid the tax includes Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, “the founder of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc (BDMS) and Bangkok Airways Plc, transferred his stakes in both listed companies with a combined worth of over 10 billion baht to his wife and children…”. The report adds that he is “the richest businessman on the Thai stock market last year, transferred 9.96 billion baht worth of BDMS shares to his wife and children and another 868 million baht worth of Bangkok Airways shares to a daughter.” Last year Forbes listed him as 8th wealthiest in Thailand with assets worth $2.8 billion.

Another almost 8 billion baht worth of BDMS shares were transferred to family members by other major shareholders.

Thailand’s tax regime has long been regressive, and as elsewhere, the rich have many ways to avoid contributing to the common good.





The military’s medicine

22 01 2016

Thailand’s own Andy Capp, Meechai Ruchupan is now well into his eighth decade, but he still seems to believe that he is on target – like one of Andy’s darts – to deliver a political bull’s eye for the military, monarchy, their tycoons and the frightened middle class.

AndyIn an interview with Reuters, he has talked about the junta’s draft constitution. For his audience of anti-democrats, he says the draft will be “strong medicine.”

With the military’s partisan Constitution Drafting Committee almost finished in this second attempt at delivering the right “medicine,” like the anti-democratic street demonstrators belief, based on royalist ideology, that the root of all political evil is the “abuse of power by lawmakers…”.

Meechai has been involved with so many of these charters that serve the ruling class that he knows the political threat from the lower classes has to be seen off. He claims that the new draft is sure to be opposed by political parties because it is “strong medicine.” The stumbling block, however, is that the draft has to go to a referendum, and the “great unwashed” might just rebel against the powers that be. Despite all the threats and repression and the related populist spending by the junta, voters might just tell the toffs that they do not want Meechai’s anti-democratic poison.

The problem is that rejecting the draft will mean more of The Dictator and his military regime. As in 2007, there might be those who will accept the draft constitution and hope that they can then elect a government of their choice. This time, however, no elected government is going to be able to rule in its own right. So many unelected representatives of the elite are imposed on the country through this draft, that an elected government will be like a trained monkey.





Junta populism and promoting business

5 11 2015

The junta has spent a considerable amount of effort indoctrinating its children (of all ages). One of its several themes has been damning politicians as corrupt for implementing populist policies and programs.

Indeed, since 2001, the royalist elite has spent a lot of time, supported by tame “academics,” denigrating popular and even mild redistributive programs that were associated with the Thaksin Shinawatra-aligned political parties. These “populist” innovations were denounced as “corrupt” because they were electorally popular, leading to the ideological linking of “populism” and “evil, corrupt and self-serving” civilian politicians.

“Populism” has been made a dirty and denigrating word, with “policy corruption” was added to constitutional drafting considerations of something to be controlled or banned.

Fortunately for the military junta, it doesn’t have to play by any rules, and it claims to operate with a curious anti-politics agenda, so by its own definitions and rulings, it can’t possibly engage in either populism or policy corruption.

As reasonable observers know, this is smoke and mirrors. PPT has posted on the junta’s populist-inspired policies for some time. Back in October 2014, we posted on a considerable sum earmarked for programs labeled “not populism.” This included measures to increase consumption and employment: 40 billion baht in aid for farmers and 129 billion baht  to create jobs through investment projects. The “populist” attention to its anti-democrat support base in the south has also been noted.

With the military junta already having engaged in politically-inspired handouts and having appointed former Thaksin economic czar Somkid Jatusripitak to try to throttle some life into the junta-deadened economy, it is not surprising to to read in Khaosod that the military junta “has approved USD$1.3 billion (46.1 billion baht) in rural subsidies, akin to the populist policies of the government it ousted, to appease disgruntled and politically powerful farmers who are struggling with record low commodity prices and weak exports.” The political motive is clear:

The rural heartland of Thailand’s deposed leader Yingluck Shinawatra and her exiled billionaire brother Thaksin is hurting as a result of the military government’s economic policies, stirring discontent and the threat of protests.

But the military dictatorship had also “pledged to wean farmers off expensive subsidies used by the previous government…”. It is now doling out “around $1 billion (35.5 billion baht) to help rice farmers and … $365 million (12.9 billion baht) to help rubber farmers who had threatened to rally in defiance of a ban on political gatherings.” This comes on top of the earlier funding and soft loans to villages, a la Thaksin in 2001, where another 60 billion baht is allocated.

Yingluck’s government is alleged to have spent some $14-15 billion in such schemes. It seems the military junta, if it could be added up, is spending amounts that would match Yingluck’s on an annual basis. This is likely to increase.

There’s also a king of “populism for the rich” at work for the junta. Following several reports of villagers being dispossessed and jailed in acts of “primitive accumulation,” by the regime for various “projects.” Such work is conducted for the military junta’s business allies. This support is now reported at Prachatai to be extended to include legal manipulation in the interests of business.

The junta “has given a green light to the proposal to shorten the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] process by half to speed up mega construction projects.” The projects are the “PPP (Public and Private Partnership) mega projects.” The reduction means that the EIA can be reduced “from about 22 months currently to only nine months.”

Minister Somkid is reported as lauding the proposal as it will “will increase the speed and efficiency of the process to give out public concessions to private companies.” We can hear the Sino-Thai tycoons and favored investors – the junta likes the Chinese state companies and Somkid is close to Japanese corporates – smacking their lips now.

The current seven PPP Fast-Track projects are: the Bangkok Transit System (BTS) railway line extension, highway projects in the west and northeast, and “Garbage factories” in the central and northeastern regions.

The shortened EIA process will replace but more likely work in concert with the junta’s use of  the draconian Article 44 of the Interim Charter, that allows the junta to clear obstacles and people to make way for business.





Internal consumption I

4 11 2015

The still murky lese majeste case, which has so far seen three arrested, one dead and perhaps a dozen others mentioned as possibly implicated, has just gotten much bigger.

The first indications of deepening internal rivalry and regime consuming action was the removal of national police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri, who was on the Bike for Dad and Bike for Mum organizing committees. There was also the revelation that persons close to Sino-Thai royalist tycoon and CP boss Dhanin Chearavanont.

In a Bangkok Post report it seems that the network of disputation has been expanded significantly. Police have announced that “between 40 and 50 military major generals and colonels could be involved in the current high-profile lese majeste case…”.

Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy national police chief in charge of the investigation, is the one who has made this claim.Saturno devorando a su hijo

There is, as yet, no “solid evidence to seek arrest warrants for any of them” and the “armed forces have also not lodged a complaint with police about the suspects…” yet lack of evidence seems off the mark for lese majeste cases.

The police boss stated: “I can say that more arrest warrants will be issued for sure…”.

Leaks say that Suriyan Sujaritpalawong has “admitted to making false claims involving the monarchy to solicit money from business operators.” It is also said that “Suriyan named one army major general and one army colonel as members of his criminal network.”

The junta mouthpiece Col Winthai Suvaree has said the “army does not have any clear information linking the army major general and the colonel to the allegations made by Mr Suriyan.”

The case is likely to get murkier still and raises questions about the stability of the junta, which trumpets its support for the monarchy and accuses only “politicians” of corruption. A finger is now gingerly pointing at police and the military, and these accusations of criminality are reaching ever higher into the ranks of self-proclaimed monarchy supporters.

Increasingly, it seems the royalist regime is consuming itself.

Of course, the exact reasons for this, related to succession, will likely remain opaque.





Sport and dictators

4 10 2015

Sports stars often claim they are ignorant of “politics.” They may be, although we doubt the claim when it comes to highly-ranked players who travel the world with entourages of managers, coaches, advisers and other minions. Some are outspoken, like Novak Djokovic who has proclaimed that he is a Serbian nationalist, while others like Rafael Nadal claim no politics.

We mention these two because they have landed themselves in the middle of the world’s only military dictatorship and have actively promoted that horrid regime and the symbols that underpin royalist politics. One report states that the two players “came to Bangkok to earn a few million dollars for an exhibition match. But there were a few strings attached.” The report stated that the two earned “a total of 150 million baht ($4.1 million) for coming to Thailand.” They were on court for about an hour. As another report has it, they “spent longer in official engagements than on the court.”Tennis2

More important, however, was the before propaganda. Djokovic and Nadal put on the junta uniform of silk jackets in the royal colors of blue and yellow. The reports state that the “dress code was part of a tightly scripted trip meant to boost military-ruled Thailand’s image, which included a meeting with the junta leader.” They met with The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. They also “signed a book of well wishing for the … Thai [k]ing…” and visited the “Erawan Shrine, the site of a deadly bombing in August, where the players laid wreaths and posed for pictures under tight security…”.

Obviously money talks very loudly for the players, but the investment by the regime’s supporters must have been considered useful in propping up repression and authoritarianism.

Back on 2 September, it was reported that the “Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand is joining hands with True Corporation to hold a special tennis match featuring World’s Number One tennis player Novak Djokovic and former World’s Number One player Rafael Nadal at Hua Mark In-door stadium on October 2.”

Suwat Lipatawallop, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand, stated that “the organizing committee had been working out the programme of activities for the two players to promote tourism in Thailand.” In fact, the “program” was one of supporting the monarchy and military regime. Not that many tourists show up in Thailand to play tennis, but we imagine that the event was about branding, especially in Europe. where the coup and the rule of military dictators means Thailand has declined in the estimation of European tourists.

It was added that “the match will be an inspiration for Thai youths to turn to sports.”

Given that tickets were priced from 1,000-5,000 baht each, we guess that Suwat means the kids of the elite. Even if poor kids and the disable were to be invited, to be polite, tennis is not widely played by the poor. Tennis

This event was the military dictatorship’s propaganda exercise. With Suwat Liptapanlop (สุวัจน์ ลิปตพัลลภ) as president, the administration of the LTAT is dominated by the military and funded by the Sino-Thai tycoons of the royalist elite.

When the “special tennis match was disclosed at a press conference held at the Grand Hyatt Erawan,” Suwat was joined by Supachai Chearavanont, a vice chairman of the giant Charoen Pokphand group and CEO of the True Corporation. The generals were gleeful when it was announced that the military-tycoon elite had captured two big name sportsmen.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand claimed the tennis players had “helped to promote Thailand’s tourist credentials,” and saying that they had shown that “it’s business as usual” under the military junta.

That’s the point. Money invested by the tycoons and state for propagandizing for the military and its monarchy.








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