One of the cover-ups

7 04 2021

Over the past couple of days, PPT has posted on a corruption story that the regime and judiciary hope will quickly disappear, fade away and be covered-up. Such publicity just holds up the money making that comes with office under a military-backed regime.

Interestingly, it is reported that one of the regime’s cover-ups has received some new attention, with “[a]nti-human trafficking advocates are calling on the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to indict the owner of the Victoria Secret brothel for human trafficking…”.

The Victoria Secret massage parlor case “was raided on Jan 12, 2018 and it was later revealed that minors and migrant workers had been forced to become sex workers on the premises.”

Like the Boss case involving the Red Bull scion, the owner of the parlor – said to be Kampol Wirathepsuporn – went into hiding.

The big story of the time, for us, anyway, was the link to top cops. Indeed, junta-appointed police chief Gen  Somyos Pumpanmuang, who went on to become head of the Thailand Football Association, was close to Kampol. Under pressure, In the moneySomyos revealed that he had borrowed a huge sum of money from Kampol.

Gen Somyos “explained” that he and the massage parlor owner were “friends and of course friends do help each other. I was in trouble and asked him for help several times.” One of those bits of “help” was a 300 million baht “loan” from the flesh trader.

Clearly the “help” was useful, for when he retired as Thailand’s top cop, he was one of the country’s wealthiest policemen.  He reported assets of 375 million baht back in 2014 when he joined one of the junta’s sham legislatures.

That’s how corruption cases tend to go for junta buddies – nothing much happens, apart from the covering up.





Police business

4 04 2020

Pol Gen Somyos and some of his loot

Over the years, PPT has posted quite a bit on police and their often unusual wealth.

Readers may recall the seemingly never investigated story of Thailand’s post-coup police boss Gen Somyos Pumpanmuang who was involved with the owner of the Victoria’s Secret Massage parlor back in January 2018. He claimed to have “borrowed” 300 million baht from the brothel boss. He even appeared with a stack of money that was claimed to be the same 300 million.

Somyos declared in 2014 that he had amassed assets of almost 375 million baht. We have previously posted on his connections with shady business groups that use men-in-black to harass villagers.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission has been deathly quiet on this case.

He’s not the only one. As the 2014 assets declarations showed, top cops averaged a whopping 258 million baht each. Back then, current Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda declared almost 1 billion baht in assets. Current head of the NACC, Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit declared almost 470 million baht in assets.

Pol Gen Wirachai

This is a long introduction to the case of Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta.

Readers may remember him from the Big Joke police dance in January 2020, when Pol Gen Chakthip came into conflict with Surachate Hakparn, a former immigration chief who, back in April 2019, was quickly and surprisingly taken into custody, removed from his posts and then made a civilian before being resurrected as a cop assigned to Government House. After he claimed shots were fired at his car and that all of the kerfuffle had to do with money associated with a biometric equipment deal, Chakthip suddenly transferred two of his two deputies, Pol Gen Chaiwat Kateworachai and Pol Gen Wirachai.

Adding to the spice, King Vajiralongkorn expelled both officers from the royal police bodyguard corps and ordered that the two were not to wear medals that bear the emblem of the royal guards.

But, then, to our surprise, Pol Gen Wirachai just appeared in the Forbes list of Thailand’s richest, with a photo of him in his uniform. Forbes states “Wirachai Songmetta entered the ranks of Thailand’s richest following the November 2019 IPO of Absolute Clean Energy, a renewable energy producer” and values his fortune at $585 million. It adds that the company “operates 14 biomass power projects with a combined capacity of 212 megawatts…”. (We wonder why Pol Gen Chakthip is not listed?)

Forbes observes that “[h]is ex-wife chairs the company while two of his three sons have board seats.” You can get a look at them here, while noting that one of the sons has been listed as a director of companies associated with Wirachai since he was 18. (That’s how the rich operate in Thailand where family trumps any sort of skill.)

The company claims another 19 projects under development throughout Thailand.

PPT was stunned. Maybe we are naive, but we hadn’t realized that serving cops could own large companies and actively engage in business. ACE is publicly-listed with Wirachai holding more than 22% of the shares and people with the same family name holding almost 80% of the shares.

Another report explains how ACE became big. It built on his family’s earlier business as “the nation’s leading producer of hardboard and wood chips, and the residue of that process is used to fuel the biomass power plants…”.  ACE reports a bunch of associated companies, all family-held and mostly in energy and tree plantations. An example is Shaiyo Triple A, claiming to have “been invited to invest in overseas markets such as China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, and Australia.”

Being a top cop can only have assisted Wirachai in grabbing land for plantations.

While he’s been a cop, Pol Gen Wirachai has been active in business, including undertaking trips overseas for his companies. In one, in 2018, he was hosted by the Chairman of Thua Thien Hue Provincial People’s Committee in Vietnam, Phan Ngoc Tho with “a reception for President of Shaiyo Triple A group Wirachai Songmetta and delegation. Also attending the working session were relevant departments and agencies.”

Wirachai for himself. Clipped from Thua Thien Hue Portal.

Shaiyo Triple A claims to have 2.5 million contracted farmers supplying it. It, too, has several subsidiaries. One recent report states that the “Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) has teamed up with Asia Clean Industrial Park Co (ACIP) to develop a new industrial estate in Chon Buri to serve novel investment projects in the Eastern Economic Corridor.” That investment is “located on a plot of 1,300 rai in Ban Bung district with a development cost of 3 billion baht.” ACIP itself “has a registered capital of 1.8 billion baht and Songmetta Corporation owns a 99% stake.” ACIP is reportedly “an affiliate company of Shaiyo Triple A Group, the international conglomerate headquartered in Thailand, with core businesses in agriculture, clean and renewable energy, logistics services, industrial land development, engineering procurement and construction services, and international trading.”

Back at ACE, the Executive Committee includes Pol Lt Gen Adul Narongsak, formerly Deputy Commissioner of Metropolitan Police Bureau. Its Board of Directors includes Charoon Intachan who lists his positions as a member of the Council of State, member of the junta’s Constitution Drafting Committee, and a term as President of the Constitutional Court. He was the presiding judge at the Court when it dismissed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office for abuse of power in 2014.

Well connected you might say. With connections to the judiciary and police, the provincial operations of the various companies associated with Pol Gen Wirachai are well lubricated. But politically-connected businesses also carry political risks, especially when the monarch gets involved. When Wirachai was removed to the PM’s Office, the “share price Absolute Clean Energy Public Company Limited (ACE) hit the floor in the morning session on January 24, 2020,” diving almost 30 percent.

We find it troubling that a serving policeman so obviously has other interests and business. More so because there are conflicts of interest involved in the businesses being operated while he is a policeman. The junta was and Prayuth regime is unconcerned by such activities because all of them – police and military – benefit from this and similar activities.





Forgetfulness

1 10 2019

PPT is wondering about the “forgetfulness” that characterizes post-2014 Thailand.

Our wondering was partly prompted by Pithaya Pookaman, a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel. One issue is the awful standover man/MP/Minister/fraudster/former heroin trafficker/purveyor of fake degrees Thammanat Prompao. He’s gone very quiet and we assume that a bigger boss than him has told him to shut up. The advice is probably that quietness will see all that “trouble” dissolve. We previously mentioned that he would probably get away with his lies and deceit. He’s powerful, influential and well-connected. How many countries have convicted drug traffickers as ministers? But his sins can be “forgotten.”

Pithaya refers to “the farcical election in March 2019 that laundered the authoritarian power of the military junta under [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha] into a shaky and unwieldly 19-party coalition…”. But what happened to the complaints about the election and the toadies at the Election Commission? Is that best forgotten? For the junta and its new regime, it probably is, but it seems stealing an election is not an offense when done by the military in 2019.

He also reckons that “the political conflict in Thailand is not between … the rich and the poor.” How quickly the basic facts are forgotten. We recall Amartya Sen’s confusing rhetoric on this, perhaps better forgotten. And it may be easily forgotten that back in 2007, per capita provincial GDP for the provinces that voted for the Democrat Party were more than 220,000 baht. For those voting for the People Power Party was just over 90,000 baht. It seems to us that those who gain most from electoral politics are those with the least.

Somyot and his money (or someone’s money)

Meanwhile, as China celebrates its nationhood, it was only a few days ago that Song Tao, the head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee met with Gen Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. It should not be forgotten that they reportedly “agreed to enhance cooperation between ruling parties for further development of bilateral ties.” Ruling parties…

Then there’s the long forgotten raid on the high-class Victoria’s Secret brothel. In recent days “[a]nti-human trafficking advocates [have been] calling on … Prayut[h] to look into a controversial decision to drop human trafficking charges against key suspects in last year’s Victoria’s Secret brothel crackdown.”

This involved underage women, including “services such as sex with virgin girls for which it charged customers as much as 100,000 baht as it was a ‘high demand service’…”.

The report remembers that “[f]ormer national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung last year admitted that he had borrowed “around 300 million baht” from [brothel owner] Kampol [Wirathepsuporn], whom he described as a friend.” It forgets to say that nothing at all has happened about Somyot’s corruption, his relationship with a sex trafficker and unusual wealth. Well, only unusual for regular people, not senior police who are mostly on the take and become seriously wealthy. Of course, Somyot was a big junta supporter and servant.

And, of course, there’s lots that is conveniently forgotten and some that’s forgotten because a lot of people are fearful of the power of military, monarchy, tycoons and other varieties of influential people.

There’s the case of Chaiyapoom Pasae, a kid shot and killed by the military and where that military has actively thwarted investigation.

Then there’s the bodies floating in the river, the disappeared anti-junta anti-monarchy activists, including men extradited to Thailand who simply disappeared. Can they really be forgotten?

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Related, there’s the king. Do people really forget his missing missus? Do they forget the missing plaque and the missing monument commemorating the defeat of royalists?

But let’s not forget the protesters murdered by the military and never adequately investigated, in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010 (to mention just a few of the military’s murderous efforts).

There’s so much forgetfulness that any rational observer could only conclude that it isn’t forgetting but lying, covering up, maintaining impunity and great fear.

 

 





King Power helicopter down I

28 10 2018

Most readers will already know that a helicopter that usually transports King Power boss and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has crashed and burned shortly after take-off from Leicester City’s latest game. As we write this, there is no news of Vichai’s fate or whether he was on the ill-fated flight.

A Sky News report tends to gloss Vichai’s life, so we thought a rundown of the posts we have had on Vichai might be in order. He is a man who became very rich very quickly based on a monopoly for duty free sales in Thailand, has rightists and royal political connections, including being associated with the funding of anti-democrats, and a royally-bestowed family name. PPT’s posts go back to 2009, not long after we began:





Promoting loyal dullards and political allies

29 09 2018

In a military dictatorship, where The Dictator and sundry minions want to rule for the foreseeable future, it pays to be onside, to posterior polish with vigor, pay for links or to have family connections.

Readers may recall that we mentioned Big Joke some days ago. Best known by this nickname, Deputy tourist police chief Surachate Hakparn has demonstrated that he is a thug and a fool.

In fact, a perfect fit with the military junta.

It is reported that the Big Joke will “become the new Immigration Bureau (IB) commissioner in the upcoming annual police reshuffle.” Why? Well, mainly because he’s a thug closely associated with the Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

The Police Service Commission recently met “to deliberate the [police] reshuffle list involving officers in positions ranging from commanders to deputy commissioners general.” Gen Prawit chaired the meeting.

National police chief and junta minion Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda declared that “all” attending the meeting “had decided on promoting Pol Maj Gen Surachate due to his achievements.” His thuggishness, his demonstrated lack of capacity for thinking and his ability to posterior polish are what matter for the military junta. (Any ability for independent thinking will rule one out.)

Being a senior policeman more or less guarantees huge wealth. Who can forget Pol Gen Somyos Pumpanmuang? When the junta appointed cops to the puppet National Legislative Assembly, the average declared wealth for the police top brass was a whopping 258 million baht. No one investigated this unusual wealth as the junta has power and the National Anti-Corruption Commission is a junta lapdog.

Big Joke has been Gen Prawit’s personal lapdog assistant spokesman for a month. Conflicts of interest, nepotism, favoritism, and so on mean nothing to the lawless junta.

(Recall the way the Yingluck Shinawatra was pilloried for transferring an officer who was considered a political problem. The junta never faces such opposition or even criticism for all its promotions, transfers and favoritism.)

Meanwhile, The Dictator “has dismissed claims Phalang Chon Party leader Sontaya Kunplome’s appointment as mayor of Pattaya is a political ploy to ensure his return as premier.”

Another lie. Everyone in Thailand knows exactly what Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is doing, but he denies the obvious. Sontaya is there to make huge wealth – as his family has long done through its mafia-like operations – but mainly to ensure a political loyalist is in place when The Dictator becomes The (selected) Dictator.

Gen Prayuth may “dismiss … accusations that Mr Sontaya was being ‘rewarded’ for supporting Gen Prayut’s return as prime minister after next year’s general election,” but that’s the game. Recall that Sontaya’s dad, a convicted felon and dark influence, got extra special treatment from The Dictator, creating the patronage relationship. A previous relationship is discussed here.

Interestingly, Gen Prayuth affirmed his long-term relationship with Chonburi’s dark influences: “I have known many people in Chon Buri long before [becoming prime minister]…”.

We guess Big Joke has a relationship too, not least because the illicit loot that flows to cops and others from Pattaya means the Tourist Police do very nicely.





NACC a sad joke

16 07 2018

Thailand has a bunch of agencies that the media repeatedly refers to as “independent.” Article 215 of junta’s constitution defines these as:

An Independent Organ is an organ established for the independent performance of duties in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.

The performance of duties and exercise of powers by an Independent Organ shall be honest, just, courageous, and without any partiality in exercising its discretion.

They are: the Election Commission, Ombudsmen, State Audit Commission, National Human Rights Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

As far as we can see, none of these agencies is in any way “independent” of the junta. Most of their actions are the stuff of puppets.

When it comes to the NACC, it has proven itself a weak, toady, puppet organization, incapable of fulfilling its legal duties.

We pick on the NACC because an anti-corruption NGO has “renewed its call … for the national anti-graft body to speed up its probes into a luxury watch scandal facing Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the money-laundering allegations against a former national police chief [Somyos Pumpanmuang].” The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand says it is three months since it published an “open letter asking the National Anti-Corruption Commission [NACC] about progress made in its probes…”.

It seems that the NACC only responded about a week ago, stating that the “two cases is that they still are in the fact-finding stage…”. Since then, zilch, nothing, silence. We might add that the “investigation” of Gen Prawit goes back to December 2017. Pol Gen Somyos was first revealed as being involved with the owner of the Victoria’s Secret Massage parlor back in January this year. Now boss of the Football Association of Thailand – where was he in the cave drama? – Somyos “borrowed” 300 million baht from the brothel boss.

ACT puts the obvious question: why [is] the NACC is taking so long to wrap up these two particular cases?” As we have said, ACT points out that these are not complicated cases.

In response, referring to the Prawit “investigation,” an anonymous “NACC source … revealed that a committee handling Gen Prawit’s case had finished questioning all witnesses, but the local dealers of those luxury watches had refused to provide the NACC with any information about the serial numbers of the watches in question.”

That might have something to do with tax evasion, but that’s only a guess. In any case, this is where the NACC was in May and sounds rather like an excuse for foot-dragging and the great cover-up for the Deputy Dictator.

There was silence on the case investigating Somyos and scores of others.

ACT rightly asks: “… how could the public trust the NACC to handle even more complicated cases in the future?” We haven’t trusted it for several years now as it became the political plaything of the junta, doing some of its dirty work, disrupting the Puea Thai Party and making life difficult for politicians and activists the junta finds oppositional. In other words, the NACC is a tool for political repression and displays not a skerrick of independence.





Somyos and his money

13 05 2018

It was less than a week ago that wealthy former police chief Somyos Pumpanmuang was mentioned in a post. Of course, long-time readers will know that we have been posting on his unusual wealth since it was revealed in 2014.

Back in 2017, we asked about the Police General’s positions and wealth. Somyos is head of the Thailand Football Association, an organizations neck-deep in accusations of corruption for many years. He 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. And we asked: Has he ever been taxed?

Somyos then got caught up in a scandal as one of his “friends,” from whom Somyos seems to have garnered considerable loot, has his upscale massage parlor raided,

It is now reported that 40 individuals, including  Somyos, “are being interrogated by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) for engaging in financial transactions with the owner of Victoria’s Secret massage parlour.”

The former Police General’s claimed buddy Kampol Wirathepsuporn is suspected of money laundering and human trafficking.

Pol Gen Somyos has stated that “he had borrowed 300 million baht from his ‘old friend’.” That was “while he was a national police commander.”

The National Anti-Corruption Commission, populated by two other police generals, says Pol Gen Somyos had “offered a clarification over the 300 million baht, but would not discuss further details.”

The NACC seems most uninterested in the unusual wealth of dozens of people associated with the junta who display unusual wealth.

None of their assets declarations “explained” their unusual wealth but revealed (some of) it.

Somyos, in “his first assets declaration as a former NLA member did not show the 300-million-baht debt.” In fact, Pol Gen Somyos listed his and his wife’s assets at about 358 million baht, with debts listed at 3.3 million baht.

As the NACC has repeatedly shown, it is unwilling to investigate superiors and junta buddies. Will any body take this up?





Power

7 05 2018

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post. He was once with The Nation and has a reputation for biting op-eds. His most recent outing deserves some attention.

He observes that there have been a series of scandals for the military regime over the last six months. We think there have been far more and over a longer period, but let’s go with his six months of troubles, “starting from November of last year. It began with junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha berating a fisherman down south for daring to matter-of-factly ask him tough questions. Next came deputy junta leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon flashing his posh taste for luxury watches, which supposedly were borrowed from generous friends.”

What has happened about those watches? The National Anti-Corruption Commission has gone very quiet since Gen Prawit told them their case was over. We assume the NACC has done as it was ordered and there’s no case for the boss to answer.

Voranai then mentions “former national police chief Somyot Poompunmuang, who ‘borrowed’ 300 million baht from a massage parlour tycoon…”.

Somyos and some of his loot

What has happened there? As far as we can tell, the wealthy cop is off the hook. His sloshing about in other people’s money is a bit like the watch saga; it is just normal behavior for the powerful.

And so on.

Voranai observes, as we do, that “[n]one of these gentlemen [sic.] think they have done anything wrong.”

Of course they don’t. They are powerful, entitled and deserving.

He adds:

These aren’t isolated incidents to be treated separately, mind you. Here the common theme is that the rich and powerful, the elders or phu yai, who are leaders of society, do whatever they want, however they want — as has been done for decades and centuries before. The sense of entitlement is of medieval proportions.

But these men are not behaving simply as feudal lords did. This is a Thailand dominated by market capitalism dominated by “whales” who reward their political fixers. The entitlements of these whales far outweigh those of the police chiefs and political flunkies who do their bidding and put them on boards or pay them retainers for services to be rendered.

 

Where we distance ourselves from Voranai is when he makes claims that we are all to blame, that it’s cultural. It isn’t. It is a system of political and economic power that needs to be smashed.





Whitewashing and covering up

12 03 2018

Keeping General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury watches out of the front pages, Italian-Thai Development boss and wildlife pilferer and jungle food connoisseur Premchai Karnasuta is filling the headlines.

Former editor of the Bangkok Post Veera Prateepchaikul is reflecting a widespread angst regarding Premchai’s cases when he says there’s no surprise that deputy national police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul has been vilified for seeming to find excuses for allowing Premchai off some of his hooks.

Pol Gen Srivara is overseeing the investigation into the illegal hunting case against the four members of Mr Premchai’s group, with Mr Premchai being the main suspect. The others include a female cook, a hunting guide and a close aide of Mr Premchai. But the way in which he has handled the case from the beginning leaves much to be desired.

Pol Gen Srivara seems adept at finding excuses fro Premchai while preparing the public for the expected whitewashing of Premchai.

No surprises at all. Where’s that Red Bull cop killer? Where’s the case meant to “investigate” the murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae? Where’s the case against corrupt cop Somyos Pumpanmuang? We could go on and on.

The police are available for hire by the wealthy and kowtow to the powerful. They are paid handsomely for their service.





Hung by his own words

11 02 2018

We are pleased that some media and a few critics have taken up the obvious corruption of former top cop Pol Gen Somyos Pumpanmuang.

The Nation reports that Watchara Petthong, a former Democrat Party MP, has called on the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to “probe a retired national police commissioner who recently admitted borrowing Bt300 million from a wanted brothel owner and doing police work as a sideline.”

Watchara wasn’t sure exactly who should be investigating but reckoned that the former police chief under the military junta needed to be investigated and hung out on his own words.

Somyos has confirmed that he and Kampol had been friends “for long time” and added that they had also  done “some business together.”

Watchara was also surprised by comments Somyos made in a radio news programme. Here, we are pleased that Watchara is actually taking up points we have made at PPT over a long period. In the reported radio show, the former police boss stated that he had earned a great deal of money from business during his tenure as the police commissioner. He reportedly added that “being a police officer was just a sideline.”

We know that the latter point is true and we have long pointed to the business connections Somyos had while a policeman.

As The Dictator’s top police officer it is likely that Somyos will have considerable support within the police and in higher reaches of government. But even they will be exasperated that Somyos has hung himself by his own words.