A feudal king

26 07 2017

One of the themes of the new reign has been the accumulation of power to the king. Since his December 2016 accession, King Vajiralongkorn has managed a rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution.

That process has seen constitutional change demanded and received, control of formerly state offices associated with the palace handed over to the king and the king gain unfettered control of the Crown Property Bureau and its great wealth.

It has also seen a large reorganization of palace staff as Vajiralongkorn purged masses of people including many formerly considered close to him. These purges seemed to begin with his third wife, Srirasmi.

A further step in the king’s massing of wealth and power in his palace has been a refeudalization of the king’s relations with those in the palace. The most recent example of this has been revealed by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He shows that at least 11 women have been royally granted the family สิริวชิรภักดิ์ /Sirivajirabhakdi.

This royal attention to young women seems to indicate that a return to 19th century  concubinage and a royal harem will be another retrogression introduced in this reign.

Rich refugee from military-monarchy gang

19 06 2017

The very wealthy Nopporn Suppipat was accused of lese majeste after he was named in a family-based purge of persons associated with then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s estranged wife Srirasmi and her relatives in early December 2014.

The Bangkok Military Court issued an arrest warrant for Nopporn on 2 December 2014  allegedly he hiried two criminal suspects connected to former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan, the then princess’s uncle. Nopporn is accused of defaming the monarchy by using royal influence to hire others to physically assault and threaten.

Forbes lists Nopporn as a rich lister, worth US$800 million. His rise has been startling after several unsuccessful enterprises in the past. He is boss of Wind Energy Holding Co.

Nopporn fled the country and declared his innocence.

He apparently fled to Cambodia on 30 November 2014 after he found that he would be charged under the lese majeste law. He says: “I knew ‘112’ would mean I wouldn’t get bail… I couldn’t take that risk…”.

Nopporn denied any connection to the princess’s relatives. He says he was engaged in a lengthy court dispute over money with the businessman, eventually enlisting the help of a senior army officer to help negotiate a final settlement. Nopporn said the officer hired Srirasmi’s brothers, without his knowledge.

The tycoon also explained that he believed he was being targeted because he was perceived as being close to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, which he denies. He says the “police believed I was close to Thaksin, and with that I knew I had to run…”.

Nopporn said he has no intention of returning to Thailand any time soon because he would be unable to get a fair hearing in the junta-strangled nation. He denies all of the charges.

All of this is background for a story in the Business Insider on Nopporn’s exile in France. He has now lived in Paris for two years “as a political refugee, and has dabbled in France’s burgeoning tech scene. He is the lead investor in Blade, a Paris-based cloud computing firm which has just raised €51 million (£45 million)…”.

He said he doesn’t plan to return to Thailand and has sold his company there:

Suppipat, for legal reasons, can’t comment on where his money is. Having fled Thailand, he was forced to sell WEH in 2016 in what he describes as a bad deal to another prominent Thai businessman, Nop Narongdej. “He shafted me….

No one is safe in Thailand under the military-monarchy gang.

Updated: Lese majeste barbarity deepens

9 06 2017

A strange mood emerged sometime during the 2010s that saw red shirts considering then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn as a political ally. We are not sure why this view developed. Some of it drew on the position that the prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra. That position drew on a partial reading of Wikileaks and the successionist argument that the royalist elite was seeking to prevent Thaksin being involved in that event, supporting the prince.

Whatever the reasons, this also led to an odd claim that the prince as king could be more “democratic” and could wind back the “damaging” (mis)use of the lese majeste law.

Nothing in the prince’s life story justified such political optimism.

When it comes to lese majeste, recent years suggest that the then prince used lese majeste as a means to rid himself of those he considered personal enemies, had crossed him or found themselves on the wrong side of his “divorce” from wife no. 3, Srirasmi.

The record of the first six months of Vajiralongkorn’s reign suggests that the reign of lese majeste terror is to deepen. This is confirmed in the most recent sentencing by a military court.

On 9 June 2017, a military court sentenced Wichai Thepphong to 70 years jail on lese majeste. The previous “record” for lese majeste repression was a sentence of 60 years.

Wichai’s sentence was reduced to 35 years when he agreed to plead guilty.

He was convicted of 10 lese majeste offences in “creating a copycat Facebook profile and posting lèse majesté messages on it to take revenge on his [former] friend.”

Wichai was “arrested in December 2015 and has remained in custody since.” That lengthy stay in jail apparently convinced him to change his not guilty plea.

Three basic points can be made. First, because the lese majeste law is draconian and allows anyone to make a complaint, it is subject to abuse by anyone, including the authorities. It isn’t even clear why this case amounted to lese majeste.

Second, it is a remarkable testament to the state of authoritarianism, that this case has been the responsibility of a military court.

Third, there’s no reason for false optimism about he new reign.

Update: We fixed an incorrect link.

Ying Kai gets 15 years on lese majeste

7 06 2017

It has been some time since much has been heard about the so-called Ying Kai case. That case continues while spinning off four other lese majeste cases. Last November we provided a summary.

The last we heard of Monta (or Montra) Yokrattanakan’s case was when she appeared in court on 29 September 2016 on a lese majeste charge and her court date was set for 6 June 2017.

The Bangkok Post now reports that the Criminal Court on 6 June 2017 “sentenced Monta Yokrattanakan aka Ying Kai to seven years and six months in jail for lese majeste in claiming to be a royally appointed khunying (lady) and have a close connection to the palace.” Prosecutors “told the court that from May 2012 to August 2013 Monta had claimed on three occasions to be khunying and knew people in high places.”

She had initially denied the lese majeste charges. However, when she appeared in court, like so many others with lese majeste charges, “Monta told the court that she changed her mind and wanted to plead guilty in the case, so the court gave its ruling.”

It sentenced her to 15 years jail. However, the “confession prompted the court to commute the jail term for her three lese majeste offences … to seven years and six months.”

Monta was also charged with human trafficking. It is unclear what has happened to those charges.

This is just one of dozens of cases where lese majeste charges have been brought against persons accused of “misusing” royal connections. The most spectacular set of cases involved the jailing of the family of King – then Prince – Vajiralongkorn’s former wife Srirasmi in late 2014.

The king’s laundry I

21 05 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship is expanding its already frantic efforts to create a political landscape cleansed of anything that shows the real king as other than the “official king.” Like slaves and handmaidens of centuries past, the junta is busy laundering the king’s image and cleaning up his own messes.

The laundered image is the often grim, sometimes seemingly bemused man in business suit and more often a military uniform, trailed by a daughter or officials appropriately bowed or slithering.

The only concession to a more real view is that the junta’s version does allow for the now most senior consort to be regularly seen.

His earlier and third wife, Srirasmi, had been thrown into house arrest and her family jailed in late 2015 as the then prince prepared for his reign.

The new, apparently official, number one consort is also often in the military uniform of a general. She was promoted by the king to this position. Her only “qualification” is that she is the king’s consort.

The image the junta launderers don’t want seen is that of the king trailing around his beloved Munich, dressed like fashion moron, sporting mail-order tattoo transfers and accompanied by another of his girlfriends, a legion of servants and a fluffy dog.

PPT doesn’t think fashion is a necessary qualification for being king. After all, that has to do with blood. Yet his “style” says something about the man. His desire to keep this side of his life from his Thai audience is also telling. (We do not believe that the military junta would be so frantic about these images if it wasn’t being pushed by a king known to be erratic, wilful and menacing.)

The seemingly demented efforts a week ago to threaten Facebook may not have been entirely successful, but they are again revealing. The Economist reflects on these bizarre and dangerous efforts to repress for the king:

Thailand has always treated its royals with exaggerated respect, periodically clapping people deemed to have insulted the king behind bars. But some thought the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol in October and the accession of the less revered Vajiralongkorn might curb the monarchists’ excesses. Instead, it seems to have spurred them on. The military junta that runs the country is enforcing the draconian and anachronistic lèse-majesté law with greater relish than its predecessors.

We are not sure who could have thought that a new king, often secretive and with a reputation for vindictiveness, might have eased up.

Indeed, this king has a long history of lese majeste cases in his name. One of the first cases we wrote about at PPT was of Harry Nicolaides, an Australian who wrote a forgettable novel that included these lines:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives “major and minor “with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Harry was probably writing of second wife, Yuvadhida, but the words could also be applied to the treatment  of Srirasmi.

Those words must have enraged somebody. They earned Harry a sentence of six years  in jail on 19 January 2009 (reduced to three years on pleading guilty). This for defaming the then crown prince now king.

If not in Thailand, where it is illegal, read Nicolaides’ novel here. Note that this scanned version of the book bears the stamp of the National Library of Thailand but should not be downloaded in Thailand.

The Economist continues:

At least 105 people have been detained or are serving prison sentences for lèse-majesté, compared with just five under the elected government the junta overthrew in 2014. Many of them posted critical comments about the royal family on social media; some simply shared or “liked” such comments. Other arrests have been on even pettier grounds. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a student activist, is on trial for sharing a profile of King Vajiralongkorn published by the BBC’s Thai service. Police have warned that those agitating for his release could themselves face charges. A well-known academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, remains under investigation for several instances of lèse-majesté, including questioning whether a 16th-century battle involving a Thai king really took place.

As we have said, this number of lese majeste cases is too low. Quoting the low number allows the prince-now-king too much latitude. The lese majeste arrests and charges have been swelled by various palace purges by Prince, now King, Vajiralongkorn. Lese majeste has been widely used against those he dislikes. Give him the “credit” he deserves and for this nastiness and vindictiveness.

The Economist mentions the (almost) latest set of six cases (we will post separately on another set of cases):

This month security forces arrested Prawet Prapanukul, a human-rights lawyer best known for defending lèse-majesté suspects. He risks a record 150 years in jail if convicted of all ten counts of lèse-majesté he faces. Several recent sentences for insulting royals have exceeded 50 years; the standard for murder is 15-20 years.

All of this is followed by a banal claim by the newspaper: “Thai kings have a long history of fostering democratic reform…”. There is simply no adequate historical evidence for such a claim. It is a royalist fabrication based on notions of Thai-style democracy that is “democracy with the king as head of state,” exactly what the current junta is promoting: no democracy at all.

That Vajiralongkorn is going to be ruthless and anti-democratic should not be a surprise to anyone. He comes from a long line of anti-democratic kings who have protected privilege by working with the military. The only threat to the continuing of this monarch-military dictators alliance is if the junta gets so ticked off with the king that it decides to do away with him. That possibility seems somewhat remote.

The more likely outcome for the short to medium term is more censorship and ever more maniacal efforts to police the king’s image and wash his dirty laundry.

Even more palace cleansing

15 03 2017

The prince-cum-king has been cleansing and reorganizing the palace – his palace – for quite some time. One of the most high-profile bits of cleaning was the ousting of his former consort, the former Princess Srirasmi back in late 2014.

Since then there’s been a constant churn of people and officials close to the prince-now-king.

Now a report of yet another purge, this one in Khaosod English, which we reproduce in full:

The royal household announced a number of reassignments Monday in a reshuffling of the ranks.

Six palace aides working under His Majesty the King were stripped of their rank, some due to alleged misconduct, while five officials were promoted by the monarch for their service. Nineteen civil servants also left the royal household, four of them senior officials known as grand chamberlains.

Among the six military officers who lost their status were two officials, Cmdr. Jaruwan Changmool and Maj. Thanapon Yooman, who were expelled for serious offenses described in the Royal Gazette on Monday.

A royal statement said Jaruwan was slacking in her duties.

“[She] did not develop herself, lacked enthusiasm; was idle, and lacked correct judgment which caused damage” to His Majesty’s household, the Royal Gazette said in its proclamation stripping her of her rank.

Another statement accused Thanapon of multiple offenses, including disobeying orders from His Majesty the King himself.

“[He] used inappropriate words and behavior; disputed royal commands; displayed arrogance, insolence and insubordination; committed gravely evil acts; behaved carelessly in his bureaucratic duties; procrastinated; and neglected his bureaucratic duties,” the statement said.

Four other officers were stripped of their rank on technical grounds. The Royal Gazette said they had recently moved up two ranks within six months, which is not allowed under military regulations.

On the same day, His Majesty the King also promoted five members of his household corps, including three air force officers and two colonels, to generals, citing excellence in their services.

Meanwhile, 19 officials were fired from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. Four of them held the rank of deputy director to the royal household, a title known formally as grand chamberlain.

The Royal Gazette did not say why the officials were expelled.

Some details of this article have been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law.

The machinations in the palace, this lot coming as the king jetted off to Germany, are quite amazing. In fact, “amazing” is probably too limited a term. It is bizarre.

We wonder if lese majeste charges will follow.

Obviously, the king has the support of the military dictatorship as he behaves in this odd manner.

More on Jumpol and the palace

28 02 2017

This post is an update to our earlier one on earlier posts. A while ago we posted on the police investigating forest land encroachment in Thap Lan National Park allegedly committed by former deputy national police chief Jumpol Manmai who was a right-hand man of King Vajiralongkorn.

Since then, nothing official has been heard of Jumpol. On social media, it has been said that he has “disappeared” and others claim he has been murdered. Those rumors now seem highly dubious, although they may have played a role in finally getting Jumpol back into public view.

His re-entry was announced by the Royal Gazette sacking him and statements that he would be handed over to the police, presumably by the Royal Household Bureau and from one or other of the king’s palaces.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) police are to “bring in Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai, who was on Monday dismissed from his position as Grand Chamberlain of the Bureau of the Royal Household, for questioning Thursday.” We look forward to seeing him and whether, like earlier royal prisoners, has been shaved bald.

Police say “Jumpol is expected to be indicted at Nakhon Ratchasima provincial court on the same day as the questioning, said the same source.”

The Royal Household Bureau is reported to have alleged that “Jumpol also abused his position to seek personal gain and had a political bias which was deemed a threat to internal security and led to him being no longer trusted by the monarch…”.

For more background on the case, especially on the series of royal sackings and unexplained deaths of “suspects” in custody, Channel NewsAsia has details via AFP. We reproduce some of that below:

The fates of fallen royal aides are closely watched and widely gossipped upon by Thais.

That is because the royal family is protected by a draconian defamation law that makes scrutiny of its inner workings, or debate over its role, almost impossible inside the kingdom.

Media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the royal family.

Last week another senior aide to the king, Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum, was sacked on the charge of improperly profiting from the family.

In 2015 three people – including a celebrity soothsayer – were arrested under the lese majeste law for trying to profit from their royal connections.

The soothsayer and one other suspect died in military custody soon after their arrests.

The year before, Vajiralongkorn announced that his then wife Princess Srirasmi Suwadee, with whom he has a son, had been stripped of her titles.

That came after half a dozen members of Srirasmi’s family were jailed on lese majeste charges for allegedly improperly using their connections to him.


More changes at the palace

30 01 2017

When the last king died, the palace was essentially in the administrative hands of a bunch of old men, many of them who had been around as long as the king himself.

When the prince became king, he moved some of the old men off the Privy Council and replaced them with serving military personal – serving mainly in the junta.

Some other changes are coming just because old guys are falling off the perch. Following the death of his twin brother Keokhwan in September 2016, the Bangkok Post reports that Grand Chamberlain Khwankeo Vajarodaya died at the age of 89 last Saturday, essentially of old age.

His funeral will be managed by the Bureau of the Royal Household, with the king assigning Privy Counselor Palakorn Suwanrath as the royal representative at the bathing rite. That seems a bit odd, given his brother has Princess Sirindhorn preside. In fact, the new king and the Vajarodyas have not always got on. Royal watcher Andrew MacGregor Marshall had this to say:

One of the most prominent families of palace officials is the Vajarodaya clan (the surname is sometimes transliterated as Watcharothai). The octogenarian family patriarch Kaeokhwan Vajarodaya was a childhood friend of King Bhumibol, and has been Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau since 1987. This means that — officially, at least — he is in charge of the sprawling palace bureaucracy of several thousand officials that manages royal affairs, but in fact, as a leaked U.S. cable noted in 2009, Kaeokhwan is senile, and for many years the Royal Household Bureau has been run by his sons Ratthanwut and Watcharakitti. Meanwhile, over the past two decades, Kaeokhwan’s nephew Disthorn Vajarodaya has become particularly close to Bhumibol. The same leaked U.S. cable named him in 2009 as one of the very few people in the king’s innermost circle of confidantes, and another cable describes him as a “well-known associate of the King”. Disthorn was chairman of the king’s Rajanukhrao Foundation and a Grand Chamberlain in the Royal Household Bureau. Over recent years he has usually been at Bhumibol’s side when the king makes his rare public appearances. He has become a familiar face to most Thais who have often seen him on royal news broadcasts, accompanying the king.

Last week, the Facebook page กูต้องได้ 100 ล้าน จากทักษิณแน่ๆ, which regularly shares leaked information from within the junta, published a copy of an extraordinary order from the crown prince. It stated that Disthorn Vajarodaya was instructed to attend a special training course so he could learn to perform his duties properly, and thereafter he would serve as a private page of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. He would be banned from ever again running any of the agencies in the Royal Household Bureau. A couple of days ago, a photograph was published on กูต้องได้ 100 ล้าน จากทักษิณแน่ๆ showing Disthorn and his cousins Ratthanwut and Watcharakitti apparently undergoing their special training — the three elderly men appear to be doing some kind of drill in military uniform, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

Vajiralongkorn clearly intends to publicly shame the three palace officials, and then continue to torment them indefinitely afterwards. Disthorn, for years one of the closest friends of King Bhumibol, suddenly finds himself forced to obey the whims of Vajiralongkorn, first in a humiliating training course and then as the crown prince’s personal page. It is a dizzying fall from grace, and will be an ongoing nightmare for him.

On Khwankeo’s sons, Thaanit was a “special expert of the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, and … Dissathorn … [was] a high-ranking executive of the Bureau of the Royal Household.”

In another consolidation, the Bangkok Post reports that the king “has appointed ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol, the King’s secretary, as caretaker and manager of his personal assets and interests.”

Back in 2014, Sathipong played the role of secretary to the prince and was involved in bringing down the family of the estranged wife, then Princess Srirasmi and in reorganizing the palace’s troops.

Creepy and useless

17 12 2016

The negative reports on Thailand’s king continue. Some are accurate, some sensationalist, and some contain errors. The point, however, is that King Vajiralongkorn has a history that means he is unlikely to every get the political free ride his father had for decades.

The latest example is from the UK’s left-wing Morning Star, with the headline, “Thailand’s Caligula-like and useless new king.”

There’s lese majeste, Fu Fu, Srirasmi’s trials including her nakedness, the arrest and jailing of her relatives and the role of the monarchy partnered with the murderous military.

The king is creepy, But useless? Not for the military.

There’s also a bit on regional politics and Thailand’s move toward China.

The article concludes:

In this context, the quaint invented rituals of an anachronistic monarchy may seem irrelevant. However, the Thai throne has been a key linchpin of Thailand’s conservatism and its pro-Washington bias for the whole post-war period. The country’s underlying social and political tensions are bound to re-emerge sooner or later with one key political weapon of the elite gone.

Updated: A princely sum

21 11 2016

Since the king died, there have been a spate of stories on Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, most of them negative.

In a Wall Street Journal story a couple of days ago, the focus is on the huge wealth the new monarch will inherit: “Thailand’s crown prince won’t only succeed his father as king. He will also inherit the keys to one of the world’s largest royal fortunes.”

Yes, the junta will come out and complain that the Crown Property Bureau doesn’t belong to the king/queen, but to the “institution.” It matters not, for the management is almost entirely with royal flunkies dedicated to obeying. That’s not to say that government doesn’t have a stake in it.

The WSJ states:

The multibillion-dollar wealth of the Thai crown is rarely discussed in the country. Strict lèse-majesté laws, which criminalize any criticism of the monarchy, make many reluctant to study or debate the matter, especially now, just a month after the death of the long-reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct. 13.

In the coming weeks, though, the fortune will pass into the control of an untested heir who has lived much of his life overseas. How Crown Prince … Vajiralongkorn administers it, and especially the investments in the Crown Property Bureau, is one of the most significant questions in a country where the ruling military junta has seized power twice in the past decade, in part to make sure the royal succession goes smoothly.

It says the “crown’s assets and corporate holdings are valued at over $40 billion, according to one study, more than the wealth of Britain’s royal family or the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Its glittering royal regalia includes the world’s largest cut diamond, a golden conical crown and a fly whisk made from the tail hair of an albino elephant.”

Throw in the royal’s private wealth and the public money showered on it and “protecting” it, and this is a fat, extravagant and avaricious family.

The 70-year-long reign of the dead king was one that built power, economic and political. The CPB “became a powerful cash-spinning conglomerate and one of the most influential levers in the Thai economy.” Annual income from the CPB is reported to have grown from 563 million baht in 1987 to more than more than 1.15 billion in 2015.https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=44510&action=edit

The prince has expenses. The WSJ states that “[i]n late 2014, for instance, the finance ministry said the bureau made a 200 million baht, or $5.64 million, divorce payment, to 64-year-old Prince Vajiralongkorn’s most recent spouse.”

Given the prince’s previous behavior and the fact that all of her family is locked up and she’s hardly seen, somehow we doubt this. Even so, his international travel and living expenses are likely to be a far greater drain on the CPB than it has seen in earlier years. But who really knows? It is all a secret.

Update: Southeast Asia Globe has a story about inheritance tax in Bavaria. The prince maintains a residence in Bavaria and spends quite a lot of time there on the banks of Lake Starnberg and the story says he will be up for this tax. The story estimates it as $3.5 billion, based on reports of the assets of the CPB. An intersting claim, especially when one palace watcher says that the (military) government will pay it for him. We doubt this. The official blarney about the CPB has long been that it doesn’t personally belong to the king.