Health honchos

22 08 2021

We at PPT have just seen Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s new Secret Siam column on public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, his wealth and his politics. This is a subscriber-only post, but is well worth a read.

It begins with an extended look at Anutin’s “lavish rural hideaway … Rancho Charnvee,” which is a resort that has rooms that can be booked by the public. With its lavish accommodation, private airport, and 18-hole golf course, it is a landmark to his family’s huge wealth.

Clipped from the Rancho Charnvee website

That wealth “… comes from the family conglomerate Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction, founded in 1952 by his father Chavarat.” The latter:

… was deputy minister of finance from 1996 to 1997 in the disastrous government of prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh that presided over the collapse of the Thai economy, which in turn caused a financial meltdown across Southeast Asia. So the current coronavirus catastrophe is not the first time that a member of the Charnvirakul clan has been in a key government position at a time of crisis and failed woefully to deal with it.

In 2008, Chavarat was back, as Minister of Public Health and then as Deputy Prime Minister under Somchai Wongsawat’s pro-Thaksin Shinawatra People’s Power Party government when it was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on 2 December 2008, in a judicial coup.

The Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the People’s Power Party and other coalition parties, at the same time banning their chief executives. The incumbent Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, was then removed along with several other members of the Cabinet. Chavarat was spared because he was not a party executive or an elected MP. He became caretaker prime minister and sank what remained of the elected government, working with the military to hand over power to Abhisit. The turncoat was rewarded by being appointed Interior Minister in Abhisit’s cabinet, a post he held until 2011. As part of his political treachery Chavarat became the leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party, a party tied to the dark influence Chidchob family in Buriram. He was succeeded as leader by Anutin in 2012.

Marshall observes that, in 2010, Chavarat “was caught embezzling money from a 3.49 billion baht computer leasing project, and the controversy threatened to tear apart the coalition, but in the end, Abhisit didn’t dare fire him.”

Anutin unmasked. Clipped from Der Farang.

On Anutin, Marshall notes his relationship with Vajiralongkorn:

Anutin was even willing to risk playing the dangerous game of trying to get into the inner circle of the volatile future king Vajiralongkorn. He began donating large sums to the crown prince, and sought to establish himself as a friend of Vajiralongkorn, making regular trips to visit him in Europe. Vajiralongkorn was famously obsessed with flying during this period, spending most of the year staying at the Kempinski Hotel at Munich Airport where he always had at least one personal Boeing 737 parked ready for joyrides in the skies over Europe. Adopting flying as a hobby was a great way for Anutin to bond with his new royal friend.

A leaked secret US cable from 2009 identified Anutin as a new member of Vajiralongkorn’s inner circle….

We wonder how that relationship is today, with Anutin seeking to lay off blame for the Siam Bioscience-AstraZeneca failures while he’s been health minister. How did he get that position? Marshall speculates that: “It’s all because of marijuana.” And the rural-based mafia he represents, who are working to make marijuana a valuable cash crop. Marsall again:

When the pandemic struck, Thailand’s minister of public health was an unqualified political dilettante whose only healthcare experience was making wild claims
about the medical wonders of marijuana.

If readers can, look at the whole story at Secret Siam.

Incidentally, Anutin is not the only minister engaging in heath entrepreneurialism. With scant evidence, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin has promoted the production of green chiretta herbal pills. While there is some evidence about some of the qualities of the product, much of this is from Thai scientists keen to promote herbal medicine. Somsak’s “evidence” comes from giving pills to prison inmates and claiming “results” while clearly misunderstanding how clinical trials operate. The initial use of the pills in prisons came when the virus was raging among prisoners and vaccines were in short supply.

For ministers, there seems to be a profit motive at work rather than science and public service.





Coup rumors

22 07 2021

PPT noticed a story in the Thai Enquirer yesterday talking about coup rumors that are said to be “within political and business circles” having “reached a crescendo this past week with many claiming that a putsch was imminent due to the worsening economic and Covid-19 situation.”

The story notes that the virus crisis and “a widely shared fake document which purported to show army orders preparing for a coup” sent rumor mills into overdrive, especially “within the business community…”.

2006 royalist coup

Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome set an appropriate tone when he said that military denials “are not always accurate…”, adding: “We have to accept that in our political system the armed forces have never been reformed to be under a civilian government…. As long as they are not under a civilian government, they can use their authority and our tax money to stage a coup.”

He’s right.

Of course, it beggars belief that business types, many of who supported previous coups, would think that the military that produced the incompetent oafs now running the country can provide a more competent oaf. Wealthy business leaders are addicted to the military authoritarianism because it is good for profits, usually providing “order.” They want change when order and profits are threatened.

What Thailand needs is thorough political, legal and administrative reform, not more coups.





Further updated: King’s vaccine delayed

24 05 2021

Probably based on a royalist ideological position, the military-backed monarchists of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government initially decided to put all of its vaccine eggs in just two baskets. One was the the Sino-Thai tycoon’s Chinese vaccine. The other was the king’s vaccine, where with state support a little known company, Siam Bioscience, owned by the king, was allocated the task of producing the AstraZeneca vaccine.

While the Chinese vaccines have been rolling in – some of it reserved for Chinese citizens – AstraZeneca production has been slow. Some now say it is delayed:

Covid vaccinate

Clipped from The Rand Blog

Public hospitals such as Vajira, Chulabhorn, and Thammasat announced that they were short of vaccine stock over the weekend and will thus be delaying their scheduled shots, The Standard reported.

The report did not give details on the shortfall. Representatives of Siam Bioscience were not available for comment.

The news comes after earlier reports that the Siam Bioscience is not on track to fulfil its commitment to produce 6 million doses by the end of June. The schedule also states production levels of 10 million per month from July until the end of the year.

Dr Satit Pitutaecha, assistant governor to the Ministry of Public Health in an interview with The Standard explained that the initial 1.7 million doses for May will not be ready in time because the ministry had requested a change from the original production schedule.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Monday that he had made no commitment to having vaccines available by June 1, only to start administering them on June 7.

As might be expected of a small and inexperienced company, there would appear to be problems in scaling up production, with some reports suggesting “production levels in June were likely to be around half of what was scheduled…”.

The plan of having Thais vaccinated by the king’s graces seems to have stumbled and fallen.

Update 1: Following reports of delays, “health authorities” have said that “more AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be delivered by schedule next month…”. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has announced that “Thailand would take delivery of another lot of AstraZeneca vaccine in June.” He then added: “that this did not mean they would be available on June 1,” saying: ““If the shots made in Thailand are not ready, the company is bound to find them from somewhere else to fill our order as stipulated in the contract…”. So it seems pretty certain that locally-produced vaccine will fall short.

Concerns about delays were also exacerbated when it a plan was announced to delay “AstraZeneca second shots by four weeks for an interval of 16 weeks instead of 12 originally.” While doctors say this is based on health research, most people read it as a delay. Reports from readers suggest that the best way to get AstraZeneca is to connive with the health personnel currently offering AstraZeneca as an alternative to Sinovac for a payment of several thousand baht.

Update 2: Anutin is at it again. He’s reported in this way:

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul insists the government will be ready to launch a massive Covid-19 vaccination programme as promised from June 7 using AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

… Speaking after meeting with company representatives on Tuesday, the deputy prime minister said that AstraZeneca had given him updated information and the discussion had been very positive.

Whoopie! Jabs to come. But:

He did not specify the exact date the company would deliver its first vaccine batch to the ministry but said the company would provide further deliveries every month.

And he went on to be imprecise:

What we can say right now is that the company will be able to send its vaccine continuously every month…. The amount will be based on discussions between the company and the Department of Disease Control (DDC).

A couple of days ago he was talking about a contractual requirement…. And his evasion went on:

We can’t say the exact date we will get our first delivery from the company but we are confident that it will be ready by June 7.

Even the Bangkok Post is not finding Anutin very convincing. We hope the vaccine is available and distributed free as promised rather than “auctioned” as it is currently being done in some places.





Virus failure

5 05 2021

Readers may recall that, a couple of days ago, in posting on military budgets, we observed that key supporters of the current regime were Sino-Thai oligarchs and their conglomerates. They are handsomely rewarded for their loyalty to military and monarchy.

As we noted then, several times already this group has come to the rescue of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime, most recently offering more virus help to the government in a mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccination from June. Special mention made of billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group.

With the developing virus cluster around Klong Toey, it is reported that Charoen Pokphand Group (CP) has “launched a mass vaccination scheme to support the government…”.

The conglomerate has “set up a mass vaccination facility at Lotus Rama IV, aimed at vaccinating at least 1,000 people per day, said Suphachai Chearavanont, CEO and executive chairman of CP Group.” This will go on for a couple of weeks

This is described as “a model of collaboration among the private sector, social activists, and state agencies to minimise risks and curb the outbreak…”.

Rather, it is a statement of the regime’s vaccine rollout failure, bedrocked in the king’s “vaccine” company. More than this, as Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha gave himself total control and authority over the virus response, it is his personal failure.

Of course, CP is also a vaccine company, owning a Chinese producer. Can we assume that the vaccine it is using is from its own stocks?





Military, dictators, and money

2 05 2021

There’s a story at something called the Atlas Institute for International Affairs which sounds very 1960s and argues that militaries kept “fed” with taxpayer funds don’t intervene politically. This long discredited notion is in part based on work on Thailand. The fact that coups in Thailand bear no relationship to that military’s ability to grab loot from the taxpayer should alert the authors. Think of “self-coups,” coups against military leaders and other rightists, and, most recently, the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra, when spending on the military increased.

That said, there’s no doubt that Thai military leaders love kit and money. One graph in the Atlas story demonstrates how the military has benefited by sucking the taxpayer of the people’s money.

Military spending

What is clear, is that following the 2006 and 2014 coups, the military has been rewarded and the taxpayer filched. We might also observe that military and military-backed regimes also shovel taxpayer funds to their ally, the monarchy.

The other group that does well following military political interventions is the Sino-Thai capitalist oligarchy and their conglomerates. They get to such at the taxpayer teat via the contracts and concessions doled out by the regimes that reward their loyalty to military and monarchy.

Several times already this group has come to the rescue of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime. And as Prayuth’s mafia coalition struggles with the virus, once again, Thailand’s top business groups “offered to join the government in a mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccination from June as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.”

Gen Prayuth’s faltering vaccine “strategy” has the support of “the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Tourism Council of Thailand,” with special mention made of “[b]illionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group and VGI Pcl…”. VGI is the profitable advertising arm of the Skytrain enterprise owned mostly by the Kanjanapas family.

It seems that these groups plan to not only prop up the regime, but the king’s vaccine company as well:

Thai owners of malls, commercial real estate and industrial parks will provide spaces for vaccination camps once the country receives more vaccines from June, while other businesses will assist in distribution and logistics, communication with the public and procurement of more doses….

The Bangkok Post – which is interlinked with the conglomerates through directors and major shareholders – manages to come up with the outlandish claim that, like frontline health workers, the “men in suits turn saviours,” joining “medical heroes in trying to give [the regime’s] slow vaccination drive a shot in the arm…”. These are, it claims, “a crop of saviours stepping out of their boardrooms to rally behind vaccine procurement and national vaccination efforts…”.

Observing that the “country’s economic powerhouses are being seen as an emerging sturdy force that can help prop up the government…”, the Post doesn’t acknowledge that, so far, they haven’t actually done anything apart from prop up their regime.

Of course, more vaccination is also good for business, so the tycoons are in a win-win-win situation. And, propping up the Gen Prayuth and his limping regime of hucksters, criminals, and thugs, guarantees profits, concessions, and contracts.

Money greases a lot of wheels, but the benefits flow mostly to military, money, and monarchy.





King’s reward

2 02 2021

Usually the monarchy and military get most of our attention. But we have long posted about the tripod of oligarchy and power in Thailand, with the third leg being Sino-Thai tycoons. They’ve given billions to the monarchy and lots of ideological support and they’ve done the same for Thailand’s nasty military regimes.

In an announcement a couple of days ago, the king provided rewards for quite a bunch of the plutocrats.

The Bangkok Post reports highlights that “Suthikiati Chirathivat, chairman of the board of Bangkok Post Plc and chairman of the board of Central Plaza Hotel Plc. He is one of seven people awarded the Knight Grand Cordon (First Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand.” The capitalists love these awards because they show acceptance and put them close to the monarchy and all the benefits that provides and has provided them for decades.

It reports that others who were repaid for their “loyalty” included:

Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, the founder of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc; Santi Bhirombhakdi, executive chairman of Boonrawd Brewery Co; … Chattip Tanthaprasas, president of Nitipeerachat Law Office; Polapee Tulyasuwan, managing director of Nitipeerachat Law Office, and Aswin Techajareonvikul, chief executive officer of Berli Jucker Plc.

We are not sure what services the Nitipeerachat Law Office provided. Maybe a reader knows?

But this report is somewhat sneaky, leaving out the big names. Prachatai (in Thai) reproduces the Royal Announcement and the names include all the whales of the Sino-Thai tycoons. First listed is CP’s Dhanin Chearavanont, second is Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi of ThaiBev, third is Charoen’s wife, Wanna, and the others on Thailand’s rich list follow: a bunch of Lamsams, more Chearavanonts, more from the Sirivadhanabhakdi clan, more Bhirombhakdis, Pornpraphasand so it goes on.

Whole families seem to have been royally anointed. This appears as a thank you award for Sino-Thais supporting the king.

We wonder if those not listed aren’t being urged to do more?

 

 





Protecting CP

7 01 2021

PPT has posted several times on the relationship between Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime and the biggest, richest Sino-Thai tycoons (here, here, here, here, and here).

Khaosod reports on yet another “bonus” provided to the already hugely rich. It states that Bangkok’s health officials “omitted references to a convenience store chain owned by one of Thailand’s largest corporations when publishing coronavirus patients’ travel history ‘due to legal concerns’.”

In a remarkable turn of events, Siriporn Thongphu, an officer at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s infectious control division, said: “We have representatives from the legal department to review the travel history of patients before announcing them…”.

The result is that the travel history of a virus infected person was wiped of a trip to one of CP’s thousands of 7-Eleven convenience stores.

CP All, the operator of 7-Elevens rehearsed its PR:

The company said there is no report of anyone contracting the virus from its 7-Eleven stores to date. Bangkok has about 4,500 branches of 7-Eleven, according to available information.

“Customers only spent a few minutes in our stores, so there’s very low risk of infection,” the statement said. “However, we have instructed our staff to disinfect all the surfaces every three hours to ensure safety of our customers.”

Khaosod states:

The practice of scrubbing any mention of 7-Eleven stores seems to be exclusively adopted by Bangkok authorities, since travel timelines of coronavirus patients published by provincial agencies outside the capital explicitly mention names of each establishment visited by the individuals, including 7-Eleven.

But here’s the rub: CP has made a fortune during the virus crisis, not least because its thousands of convenience stores were permitted to stay open when almost everything else was closed. CP gets special treatment from the junta/post-junta.





Further updated: Yuletide lese majeste

22 12 2020

There’s been quite a lot of commentary on the protests, some motivated by the avalanche of lese majeste cases and some by the fact that the end of the year begs for reviews.

One that caught our attention is by Matthew Wheeler, Senior Analyst for Southeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. It is quite a reasonable and careful rundown of events prompting the demonstrations and the call for reform of the monarchy.

The lese majeste cases pile higher and higher. In a Bangkok Post report on people turning up to hear lese majeste charges, eight are listed: Arnon Nampa, Inthira Charoenpura, Parit Chiwarak, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Nattathida Meewangpla, Shinawat Chankrachang, Phimsiri Phetnamrop, and Phromson Wirathamchari.

We can’t locate the latter two on the most recent Prachatai graphic that listed 34 activists charged under 112, but that graphic does include five with names withheld. For us, this brings the total charged to 34-36, but it may well be more.

There was some good news on lese majeste. It is reported that, after more than 4.5 years, a ludicrous 112 charge against Patnaree Chankij have been dismissed. The mother of activist Sirawith Seritiwat, the Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed the charge. Her one word “jah” in a chat conversation was said to be the cause of the charge but, in reality, going after her was the regime’s blunt effort to silence her son.

A second piece of reasonable news is that the Criminal Court also dismissed charges of sedition brought by the military junta against former deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisaeng on 27 May 2014 six years ago under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act. This was another junta effort to silence critics.

As seen in recent days, equally ludicrous charges have been brought against a new generation of critics.

Update 1: Thai PBS reports that the Criminal Court acquitted nine members of the Pro-Election Group who had been charged in late January 2018 with poking the military junta: “Section 116 of the Criminal Code, illegal public assembly within a 150-metre radius of a Royal palace and defying the then junta’s order regarding public assembly of more than five people.”

The defendants were Veera Somkwamkid, Rangsiman Rome, currently a party-list for the Kao Klai party, Serawit Sereethiat, Nattha Mahatthana, Anon Nampa, a core member of the Ratsadon Group, Aekkachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan, Netiwit Chotepatpaisarn and Sombat Boon-ngam-anong.

The court ruled that:

… protesters complaining about the postponement of general elections cannot be regarded as incitement to public unrest. It also said that the protesters had no intention to defy the ban against public assembly within 150-metres of the Royal palace.

Of course, the charges were always bogus, but the junta’s point was to use “law” for political repression.

Update 2: The Nation reports that there were, in fact, 39 defendants who were acquitted.





Red Bull wealth and the missing

28 11 2020

Remember the recent media kerfuffle over the cover-up over the hit-and-run case involving Red Bull scion Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya? The big investigation confirmed what everyone in Thailand already knew: the police and justice system were doing all they could to ease things for the filthy rich Yoovidhya clan. The investigating panel found eight groups of individuals, including police, public prosecutors, members of the junta-installed National Legislative Assembly and other politicians, conspired and committed malpractice that resulted in the dropping of all charges against Vorayuth. Lawyers and witnesses gave false testimony. That’s how the judicial system works for the rich. This is the double standards that are normalized.

None of this has harmed the family.

The Guardian reports that “Red Bull has paid out more than €550m (£493m) to its founders, including the [Yoovidhya] family…”.

The company “has paid €211.4m in annual dividends to the family of Chaleo Yoovidhya, the drink’s inventor, who died in 2012” and €343m to Dietrich Mateschitz, Austria’s richest, who helped make the drink an international phenomenon.

The company “is registered in Austria as Red Bull GmbH” and “sold a record 7.5bn cans of Red Bull last year – almost one for each person on the planet.”

According to the report, “Mateschitz stills owns 49% of the company, while another 49% is shared by 11 members of Chaleo Yoovidhya’s family. The final 2% is owned outright by Chaleo’s eldest son, Chalerm.”

All that wealth was no doubt “useful” in getting the now failed cover-up in place. It probably also keeps Vorayuth living the high life wherever he is. Readers may have noticed that the trail has again gone cold, the regime is silent and the police are apparently ignoring the crime and the “investigation.”





A winner!!

14 08 2020

Remember when The Dictator-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was babbling about getting help from Thailand’s richest tycoons? Remember the sclerotic ideas he received from some of the tycoons? Charoen Pokphand’s patriarch was one who proposed ideas that served CP’s interests.

Perhaps to the surprise of many, in the era of virus economic crisis, CP has done very nicely. Khaosod reports that: “Charoen Pokphand Foods PLC (CPF) reported Baht12,139 million in net profits in the first half of 2020, a jump by 45% from the corresponding period a year earlier…”. It reported increased sales, including in Thailand.

Even in a crisis where there are so many who have lost so much, there are winners.








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