Who were the men in black?

5 10 2010

PPT is referring to the 200 armed men in black who occupied an airport parking lot late last week, not the government’s claimed men in black associated with protesting red shirts. PPT’s earlier post is here. Who were they?

Newin Chidchob

Well, we have to say that it is no surprise to find that they are probably associated with Newin Chidchob and his Phum Jai Thai Party.

The Bangkok Post states that the party is “being accused of making false promises to two businessmen to lure them into investing hundreds of millions of baht in a project to manage parking lots at Suvarnabhumi airport.” This comes as  “Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) announced … it had decided to terminate the concession of Parking Management Co to manage the airport’s parking lots.”

Immediately, former “executives of Parking Management, issued a statement yesterday to explain their role in the company. They claimed they were approached by an aide to a political figure to ask them to invest in the company. The two refused to name the politician or the party to which he belonged, but they said the party had proposed a project to the cabinet to lease 4,000 gas-fueled buses to supplement the ageing Bangkok Metropolitan Transit Authority fleet. This was a clear reference to the Bhumjaithai Party.”

PPT would guess the politician is either Newin or one of his close associates. After all, the airport has essentially been handed over to Newin and his backers in King Power to be milked of profits and other funds for personal gain and political activities.

The businessmen handed over hundreds of millions to get seats with the milking cow that is Suvarnabhumi. They claim to have then been double-crossed. The car park, they say, was “taken over by a group who claimed to be associated with a senior army officer. The group began collecting parking fees without sharing the proceeds with the two businessmen or the AoT.”

Who would not have guessed that an army officer was involved? It is all so predictable. That is also true of  Phum Jai Thai Transport Minister Sopon Zarum’s denial of the allegations. In what might be known as the car park standoff, the AoT chairman sounded military when he stated that the company “would retake control of the parking space on Oct 11…”.

What a shambles.

More on King Power

28 08 2010

Airport duty free monopoly King Power is seldom far from the front pages. Much of this has to do with the close links between its Thao Kae Vichai Raksriaksorn and political wheeler-dealer and Buriram godfather Newin Chidchob. PPT summarized our postings in our recent account of the second bombing outside King Power’s Bangkok headquarters.

One interesting little paragraph hidden away in a bombing report stated: “Newin Chidchob, banned politician and de facto leader of the Bhumjaithai party, a coalition partner of the Democrat-led government, also reportedly had dinner at a restaurant in King Power Shopping complex Thursday evening.”

These political connections are important for Vichai, who seems to be the biggest backer of Newin and his party. PPT earlier posted more background on Vichai.

Vichai is one of Thailand’s richest Sino-Thai businessmen. Some time ago PPT posted that Vichai’s background is not very clear. In 2007 he was ranked by Forbes as Thailand’s 21st wealthiest, worth about US$200 million. He’s much richer than that now. The best available account of King Power and its economic and political power is by Chang Noi. The airport monopoly also provides the huge cash flow that are a political asset.

Vichai almost single-handedly established and developed the rich person’s sport of polo in Thailand. You’d think this was little more than a hobby, but through his Thailand Polo Association, Vichai has been able to link to royals worldwide – they all seem to play this ostentatious sport – and this has added greatly to his credibility in Thailand’s high society. The Association is also populated by “advisers” who are generals in the police and military.

All of this is relevant background to a story in the Bangkok Post, where the first paragraph states: “King Power, the duty-free enterprise, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a magnificent evening, designed to depict its 20-year journey to success.”

It continues: “Under the concept “Wondrous Power: The Blissful Journey”, the event started with a lavish party, where guests – who came from the top echelons of politics, business and society – were served light cocktails around the 2nd floor Crown Atrium of King Power complex. They also enjoyed a carousel-themed exhibition portraying King Power’s rise to its present height of success.”

Some of the lucky revelers are shown in the following pictures we have picked out of the story. Who’s in the picture (left)? They are: Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Srisakul Promphan, the boss and host Vichai Raksriaksorn, Minister of Defence General Prawit Wongsuwan, Aimon Raksriaksorn, currently deputy chairman and CFO at King Power, Minister of Transport Sopon Zarum of Newin’s Puea Thai Party, and Police General Sant Sarutanond.

And then throw in this picture (right). None other than 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin. That’s some kind of political connections! Like former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Vichai seems a first-generation super-rich businessman who relies on state power for profits – in this case the duty free monopoly. However, unlike Thaksin, he seems to have taken the old Sino-Thai path of having powerful political connections rather than being directly engaged in formal politics.

PPT can’t help wondering if this remains a viable strategy in the age of globalized capitalism. It might well be a viable strategy for the backward-looking political regime that currently runs Thailand.

Newin and Abhisit

3 08 2010

Everyone recalls the wonderful picture of Abhisit Vejjajiva and Newin Chidchob embracing when the former became prime minister following the military-brokered deal to get the Democrat Party leading a royalist government.

Just a few days ago, PPT posted about Newin, referring to him as a banned political turncoat, vote-buyer and local mafia-like figure from Buriram. But did anyone think that Newin was arguably the most important figure in the government coalition? Well, maybe some did, but here is proof of his power and influence.

The Bangkok Post reports that Thai Airways International President Piyasvasti Amranand has had to defend his plans for a new no-frills spin-off from TG. He rushed to see Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, Transport Minister Sopon Zarum and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “in a bid to clarify the need for Thai Tiger Airways, which was approved by the THAI board on Saturday…”.

And who else did he contact? Newin! Why? For one thing, Sopon is Newin’s man in a ministry and Transport is a big money-spinner. Notorious vote-buyer Newin needs money to fight the next election.

And a second consideration is that Newin has business interests involved. The Post reports that Sopon criticised “the THAI plan at the behest of Mr Newin, who feared it could eat into the business of Thai AirAsia, with which he has a close connection.” Apparently Newin and Sopon believe that “Thai Tiger Airways will compete directly with Thai AirAsia, which now dominates low-cost air travel in the region.” THAI actually rushed to get a signing agreement on television in an effort to evade the Newin-Sopon lobbying.

Newin is critical for the Abhisit government. He’s the only powerbroker capable of putting together any kind of challenge to the Peua Thai Party in the northeast whenever an election is held. If he gets a few more seats, the current regime might continue. With the regime giving billions to the military and handing out billions in populist schemes, how much are they prepared to shovel into Newin’s coffers?

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