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.





Further updated: More junta corruption

6 02 2018

Long-time readers will know that PPT has had considerable commentary on former police chief General  Somyos Pumpanmuang.

Much of that commentary had to do with corruption. General Somyos is now head of the Thailand Football Association,  where he claims to be battling corruption involving match-fixing. What a joke. The fox is in charge of the chickens. Somyos had long and arguably corrupt 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.

Now General Somyos tells Thailand that  “he had borrowed a huge sum of money from the fugitive owner of the Victoria’s Secret Massage brothel, Kampol Wirathepsuporn.”

PPT noted this relationship in mid-January, with photos.

Pol Gen Somyos says Kampol and he “were friends and the latter loaned him money on several occasions.” How much? Somyos says “about 300 million baht changed hands between them.”

That’s about 10 times more than the “borrowed” watches that General Prawit Wongsuwan claims to have had from “friends.”

Like the Deputy Dictator, Somyos “explains” that he and the massage parlor owner are “friends and of course friends do help each other. I was in trouble and asked him for help several times.”

We can only wonder what “help” Pol Gen Somyos provided for his friend.

At the same time, we can only remain puzzled as to how a man who reported assets of 375 million baht back in 2014 got that money and how he was still able to borrow 300 million from a flesh trader.

It should be noticed that none of the civil and military bureaucrats who have served the junta were almost all “unusually wealthy.”

Update 1: A reader thinks we should not be calling this case “junta corruption.” We disagree. Reporting has made it clear that Somyos “borrowed” these huge sums when he was police chief, working for the junta.

Update 2: Soonruth Bunyamanee is a deputy editor at the Bangkok Post and has a useful op-ed on this case. We agree with much that he says. However, we disagree with a couple of his points. To nitpick, we think it is a bit of a fudge to refer to this case as a reminder of how “deeply the patronage system is entrenched in Thai society.” In fact, this is another example of the deep corruption that underpins relationships between business and officials. More specifically, this is an example of how the police make money through the protection and shake-down rackets they run and how powerful businesses get more profits from the way these rackets are run. Almost all senior police become hugely wealthy from their positions and the manner in which they extract money. Of course, these relationships often become chummy or even “regularized.” One such “regularization” was seen in another case under the junta, where city police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn declared that the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc pays him 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser.” ThaiBev is controlled by one of Thailand’s richest, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. In the end, this instance of corruption was considered normal and not a crime.

The other nitpick we have is when Soonruth says, “it’s not wrong for Pol Gen Somyot to have the owner of a massage parlour as a friend.” We think this is wrong. According to reports on the case, this massage parlor was engaged in multiple illegal activities from paying off officials and police to stealing water and human trafficking. Why would any top cop want to be associated with such criminal activities? Of course, for the money!





Tax evaders, tycoons and the palace

3 04 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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