With two updates: Junta politics of influence, dark influence and murder

25 09 2019

A quick look at the English-language newspapers over the last day or so suggests that there’s more than a little poor journalism going on.

One was the report that “the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP)-led consortium, winner of the bid to build the 224-billion-baht high-speed railway linking three airports, will be told to sign the contract on Oct 15 or face a fine for failing to honour the terms of the bid.” That “ultimatum was decided upon … at a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who oversees the Transport Ministry, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, senior transport officials and the chief of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office.”

PPT has no brief for the Sino-Thai tycoons at CP, but we would have thought that someone at the Bangkok Post might have recalled that Anutin’s family are the major shareholders in CP competitor Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction. Perhaps it might have also been useful to note that the Chidchob family, Anutin and his father have been political bedmates for over a decade.

While on Sino-Thai tycoons, the Post reported that Viroj and Samrerng Suknamai, the parents of “former beauty queen and actress Nusara Suknamai,” have “filed a lawsuit with the civil court on Monday, demanding 300 million baht in compensation plus a 7.5% interest from the manager of Vichai’s estate and the King Power Duty Free company, which is owned by the tycoon’s family.” Nusara “died on Oct 27 in a helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester…”. When all of the eulogies were for Vichai, at the time of the accident, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan was in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He correctly identified her “the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… [of the so-called] family man [Vichai]…”. The report does indicate that the fabulously wealthy King Power lot have been pretty tight-fisted in dealing with the “other woman.”

The ruling class’s military-backed regime is anything but tight-fisted when it comes to buying support. Puea Thai Party chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan claims to have “an audio clip that would show that Phalang Pracharat had tried to lure …[14] Pheu Thai MPs by offering to pay them certain benefits.” Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan denied this. But no one should believe Gen Prawit. He’s got form on this, having bought up former pro-Thaksin MPs all over the country before the election. That included heroin trafficker and standover man Thammanat Prompao. Now, Gen Prawit needs “to prop up the government’s slim majority.” This wheeling and dealing is expensive and leads to all kinds of policies that are designed simply to raise money for political shenanigans. The media should be more active in pointing out that it is the military junta’s constitution that (re)created the capacity for such political corruption.

While considering the military junta’s corruption, look to the report that the “Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee is gathering evidence in a fact-finding probe against Public Relations Department chief Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd over accusations that he verbally and in writing ordered his subordinates to spread information allegedly helping the Palang Pracharat Party ahead of the March 24 national elections and attacking a former prime minister and his party.” Remarkably, the junta government’s former spokesman thinks that like a heroin smuggler, he can simply deny: “Sansern argued that he had never taken sides…”. Back when the junta moved Lt Gen Sansern to his position, the Bangkok Post observed that Sansern was in place to “control all government-run media and enforce censorship rules in the lead-up to the expected 2019 election.” While denying everything, Sansern ran back to the boss: “Sansern said he had briefed Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha about the case.” Of course he has.

And speaking of corruption, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is ever so careful when dealing with its masters the government. A report at The Nation advises that Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives from Anutin’s Bhum Jai Thai Party, Mananya Thaiset – yes, in there with Thammanat – “has not yet submitted her declaration of assets and debts to the anti-graft body within the required time frame…”. While the law requires all to declare their assets, NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon “said officials … would gather information regarding the matter and consider issuing a letter to Mananya requiring her to provide her reason for failing to file.” It gets worse as the NACC tiptoes around its masters: “If the NACC decided Mananya was required to submit the declaration, the NACC secretariat will issue a letter to notify her accordingly…”.

Back when the political dealing was in full swing, the Bangkok Post had a source who observed the obvious: “Because it receives a big budget, the ministry [of agriculture] can be used as a political tool…”. Money can be made, voters influenced and parties supported.And, as we know from the Thammanat case, “influential persons” get these positions because they are the party wheeler-dealers. And, Mananya is from a family of chao phor and chao mae. Not that long ago, her brother, Chada Thaiset, also a Bhum Jai Thai MP for Uthai Thani declared “I am an influential person.” Back in 2015 it was reported that. like Thammanat, Chada was considered a “dark influence”:

Crime suppression Division (CSD) police officers and commandos yesterday raided 11 locations belonging to alleged influential figures in Uthai Thani’s Muang and Sawang Arom districts.

Most of the targeted premises were those of former or local politicians. They included the house of former Chart Thai Pattana Party MP Chada Thaiset and a resort building under the care of Chada’s nephew.

The 200-strong “Yutthakan Sakaekrang” operation … seized 20 guns, four bullet-proof vests, two tiger skins, two pairs of wildlife horns and a clouded leopard carcass.

… the operation was part of the Royal Thai Police’s policy to suppress crime, crack down on influential figures and hired guns.

Then in 2017, it was reported that:

A former MP and four members of his entourage were released on bail on Sunday after being detained overnight for carrying firearms in public without permission.

Chada Thaiseth, a former Uthai Thani MP, reportedly has been on an official list of mafia-style figures.

More than 100 policemen, both in uniform and plainclothes, intercepted his convoy on a road in Uthai Thani province on Saturday afternoon.

Chada’s group was driving as many as eight vehicles and a search found several guns and illicit drugs in the cars.

A pattern? You bet.

Turning to the other side of politics, Khaosod reports that Nawat Tohcharoensuk, a Puea Thai politician was found guilty of “engineering the murder of a civil servant” and was “sentenced to death on Tuesday … [but] will continue serving as an MP for the opposition, his party said.” He’s appealing the verdict, so the case is not over, but even so, it might be considered prudent for him to step down. But with gangsters in the government, the opposition has them too. And a bit of reading suggests the modus operandi of a dark influence:

Prosecutors said Nawat hired two police officers to gun down Suchart Khotethum, an administrative official in Khon Kaen, in front of his home in 2013. Investigators cited romance-related vendetta as the motive.

And, just to finish off with state violence of the military kind, we see the remarkable report that “four red-shirt co-leaders on Monday … confessed to their roles in the violent protest outside the home of the late Privy Council president, Prem Tinsulanonda, in 2007.” Perhaps they confessed to get the case settled? Perhaps a deal has been done? We can’t help but wonder because Nattawut Saikua said:

he and fellow red-shirt co-leaders offered their apologies because the protest outside Gen Prem’s residence caused injuries among both protesters and police officers on duty.

“We are sorry for what happened,” he said, before insisting the red-shirt co-leaders harboured no grudge with the late Gen Prem.

No grudge? Why’s that? He was one of those who perpetrated the 2006 coup and egged the military on in 2014. He supported crackdowns on red shirts that resulted in deaths and injuries to thousands. He dis this for the military-monarchy alliance that underpins the ruling class. With all the royalist buffalo manure that surrounds this creepy general, there’s no criticism allowed. No one has asked about his unusual wealth, revealed when he finally died.

What a week it has been for a political system designed by the military junta.

Update 1: Legal eel and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declared Nawat’s “tenure as an MP was now voided, even though the appeal process was not finalised…”. He said the “constitution stated clearly that MPs lost their status when convicted of a criminal offence.” While we think Nawat should step down and while Wissanu picks and chooses which aspects of the constitution he adheres to, we are not so sure he’s right on this. All sections in the constitution relating to convictions refer to final judgements. Indeed, Article 29 offers a general protection to those in the legal process, stating:

A suspect or defendant in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent, and before the passing of a final judgment convicting a person of having committed an offence, such person shall not be treated as a convict.

Despite this, and the fact that “appeal is automatic in the case of a death sentence,” the House Secretariat is advising a ruling from the Constitutional Court. Of course, the judgement of that Court will probably follow Wissanu.

Meanwhile, in another case of twisted ethics (see those above), the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is “likely to field Krungsrivilai Suthinpuak in a potential by-election despite the Election Commission (EC) having issued him with a yellow-card for attempted vote-buying.”

The junta’s 5 years seems to have yielded an administration of goons and crooks.

Update 2: Being ever so gentle and flexible with junta party allies, the NACC has decided that Deputy Minister Mananya Thaiset “must declare her assets and liabilities despite her insistence she is under no obligation to do so.” But she’s forgiven for “interpreting” the law incorrectly and can take longer to get her assets list in order before submitting it. Can anyone imagine such leniency for the other side of politics? Of course not. The Post believes Mananya is known “for spearheading a mission to ban toxic farm chemicals.” We think they are gilding it. She’s best known for being from a family of dark influences.

Chada Thaiseth’s convoy stopped by more than uniformed and plainclothes police on a road in Uthai Thani province in 2017. Clipped from The Nation.





Guess who?

10 06 2019

About a week ago we posted “Duty free awarded as it was always going to be awarded.” Then, King Power “won” the “bidding” to run the duty free stores and all the commercial space at Suvarnabhumi airport.

This seems a bit like The Dictator and self-appointed prime minister “winning” the “vote” in a rigged parliament to become prime minister again.

Now, also as expected, “King Power Duty Free Co has won a bid to run duty-free shops at Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai airports…”.

That means King Power has all the duty free contracts offered at airports by the Airports of Thailand Plc. Yes, every single one of them. That also means the lucrative King Power duty free monopoly continues.

As it announced for Suvarnabhumi, AoT said “the winning bidder for the operation of the three regional airports was King Power as it offered highest returns than its two rivals and also received the highest scores.”

As in the previous “bid,” those who lost were consortia “led by Bangkok Airways Plc and a venture led by Royal Orchid Hotel (Thailand) Plc…”.

The next duty-free “bid” comes up later in the year, for Don Muang airport. Any bets on who might win that “bid”?

King Power is well-connected, having important political and royal alliances.





Duty free awarded as it was always going to be awarded

1 06 2019

It was some time ago that there were mutterings that football oligarchs at King Power might lose their lucrative monopoly on duty free. Other retailers complained and mumbled about competing with King Power for the monopoly post-2020, when King Power’s contract ended. Others claimed that money owing to the state was going missing but the courts disagreed.

The junta even went back and forth a bit on the new concession and there were stories about auctions and big foreign bidders.

Now we haven’t followed this story particularly closely, but we did notice the story that Airports of Thailand Plc that the “King Power Group has won the bid to operate duty-free shops at Suvarnabhumi airport for another 10 years and six months and another to run commercial space at the airport…”. That seems to us like no change at all, despite the grinding of teeth that seems to have gone on.

AoT executive vice-president Wichai Bunyu said there were just three contenders, and that King Power blitzed the others “in terms of financial returns.” He said” “The promised return is higher than what we’ve received and exceeds our expectations…”.

The other contenders were a group led by Bangkok Airways and the Royal Orchid Hotel (Thailand) company.

Having held the monopoly at Suvarnabhumi since the airport opened in 2006, it will be 2031 when this concession finishes. Not bad when it is considered that tourist numbers have ballooned from 11.5 million in 2006 and are forecast to reach almost 80 million by 2030.

The very same day this concession was awarded, “King Power Suvarnabhumi Co, another subsidiary of the group, won the bid to develop and operate commercial areas at the international gateway, also for 10 years and six months” over Central Pattana Plc. AoT’s Wichai gave exactly the same reasons for this concession being awarded to King Power. He added that the “overall commercial space covered 22,000 sq m…”.

Other concessions are coming up for duty-free outlets at Phuket, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai airports, and King Power wants those too.

King Power’s Srivaddhanaprabha has grown hugely wealthy on duty free. It has also been able to back some political wheelers and dealers, most notably Newin Chidchob of the Bhum Jai Thai Party and has been skilled at making royal contacts. That all helps the group and family get wealthier.





Obscene inequality

21 04 2019

Agence France-Presse has an interesting report on the fabulously wealthy in Thailand. It begins by noting that Thailand “has 50 billionaires – ninth in global rankings – [while] 14.5 million people live on welfare…”.

It adds that wealth – or inequality – was “a hot election issue this year…”. In fact, PPT can’t think of an election this century where the inequality of wealth has not been an issue. Thailand has long been at the top of Southeast Asia’s inequality rankings, going back to when estimates were first made in the early 1960s.

The hook for the AFP story is the absurdity of the ridiculously rich playing and watching polo that witnesses “teams of jodhpur-clad Argentines and moneyed Asians gallop onto the flawless field in Chonburi as spectators spill from a pavilion – glasses of champagne in hand – for the final chukka.”

The so-called sport of kings is obscenely expensive limited to royals and the obscenely rich. We have mentioned it in a couple of posts. As well as the King Power Srivaddhanaprabha family others in jodhpurs include naturalized billionaire Harald Link. Polo allows Thailand’s hugely wealthy to hobnob globally with royals and the obscenely rich. That includes the British royals, Brian Xu, of Shanghai Marco Stationery and Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah now the Malaysian king.

The article notes that Thailand is home to polo because “royalty, wealth and elite networks are cross-hatched into the social fabric.”

Interestingly, the article cites Kobsak Pootrakool of the junta’s  Phalang Pracharath Party, lamenting the huge inequality in the country. He states that “[t]he top 20 per cent own 80 per cent of wealth…”. He should know as most of the very wealthy support his side of politics.

It’s actually even more skewed that that. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report had 1% of the richest Thais controlling 66.9% of the country’s wealth in 2018. And that probably doesn’t include a calculation for the obscenely rich monarch.

In contrast, as the report observes, “[m]ore than 14.5 million Thais qualify for welfare, with most of them earning less than US$1,000 a year.”

The report also notes that a feature of Thailand’s politics is the military coup, usually “with the support of much of the Bangkok-based elite, who underpin the kingdom’s sharp hierarchy and bristle at economic and political challenges from below.”

It is wryly observed that “[c]ash … cascades down family-run businesses, whose monopolies are inoculated against competition by friends and family in politics and generous tax breaks, while generals sit on company boards.”

The military’s task is to ensure the poor do not rise. When they have, it has jailed, beaten and murdered them.

Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, himself a scion of huge wealth, declares: “Inequality won’t be solved … unless that clot of power and money is removed,” warning that inequality is “a threat to stability in the country.”

We doubt that many in the polo set and their hi-so brethren care much at all, recognizing that their wealth depends on the state’s largess and the capacity to exploit workers at will and destroy the environment.

That allows the obscenely wealthy to party obscenely, collect palatial condominiums and super cars by the score, travel the world and buy a “justice” denied the poor.





Helping friends and supporters

19 04 2019

The military junta has managed to stare down efforts to investigate its corruption. It has been able to do this by intimidation and because it has made puppets of all the state and “independent” agencies that are meant to investigate corruption. And, of course, the friends, supporters and companies that benefit are happy to pocket the gains.

So it is quite something to see that a private sector peak body has “slammed the government for giving Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) latitude in handling the controversial duty-free shop bidding, demanding accountability for a process that would damage the country.”

For a decade, duty free has been a monopoly, commanded by the King Power group (search out tag for additional posts), massively enriching the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his family and provided additional sustenance for associated political, military and royal “partners.”

This huge value of duty free stores is why there is now great competition to get hands on the goose and its golden eggs. And, it is why there’s some voice being heard about the shenanigans over the bidding (both open and behind closed doors).

It is why Worawoot Ounjai, president of the Thai Retailers Association, has slammed “the latest ruling on the bidding process for the duty-free shop concession [that] will allow the AoT to arrange the bidding by itself.” Worawoot states: “As this [junta’s] administration comes to an end, we’ve witnessed much news about its decisions that benefit several business groups,…”.

He mentions a range of recent junta decisions and wheeling and dealing, “from high-speed trains and telecom to duty-free shop concessions,” and he pointedly says that “Thais have to ask this government if it will be responsible for future actions that bring damage to the country…”.

When business groups start demanding “accuracy and transparency,” you know that shady deals are being done. Worwoot declares:

We’ve seen poor results from this type of bidding before and called on the government for accuracy and transparency. But the answer comes as expected. We have to get over it because this is the state of our country.

If the election tinkering goes as expected and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party control government, bet on this situation worsening.





Thailand’s billionaires in 2019

7 03 2019

Forbes has released its 2019 billionaires list. It includes 31 Thai individuals and families.

To make matters a little easier, we have constructed a table where all persons with the same family name have been combined and we have listed just the top 10.

That aggregating mainly impacts the Chearavanont family who have several scions listed this year. Putting all of those individuals together reveals how vast the clan’s wealth is, expanding at a rate that means it rivals the king for economic power.

But, as usual, the king is missing from the list. This year that does seem rather odd as laws have been changed to make King Vajiralongkorn the personal owner of all crown property. Essentially, that is as it has been for a long time, but the current king just got rid of the quasi-legal mechanism to allow the government and the Crown Property Bureau to protest that the king’s property was not really his.

That charade is now gone, so Forbes should list him at number 1. A rough estimate of the king’s wealth would be at least $60 billion (using data from 2005, and estimating changes in stock and land values since then).

The table reveals how the top 3, including the king and his crown property, have moved well ahead of the rest in terms of measurable wealth. We do acknowledge that the fabulously wealthy are adept at hiding their personal wealth, so all those listed are probably a lot wealthier than these figures allow.





King Power and the king

22 11 2018

This is a post about kings of commerce and kings of country. The two may or may not be related.

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the king of duty free, is barely gone and his empire may be unraveling. A Reuters report explains that the giant Central Group – one of the top 5 capitalist groups in Thailand – and DFS Venture Singapore have “snapped up retail and services concession at an upcoming airport in the eastern province of Rayong … beating out duty-free giant King Power.”

That concession allocation was controlled by the military.

As the report explains:

U-Tapao is the first airport in Thailand to hold an auction with multiple concessions, splitting up duty free and retail operations. Up until now, King Power has enjoyed near monopoly, being a sole operator with concessions in all major airports.

King Power’s monopoly concession ends in 2020.

Meanwhile, the king of the country is preparing for his next propaganda/image-building outing. The palace propaganda machine has now decided that the event can be for hundreds of thousands. Earlier reports were that the junta was recruiting 50,000 for the event, but now that figure is doubled for Bangkok alone.

As part of the incentive to drive participation, the palace has come up with “a uniform for Un Ai Rak cycling event participants” featuring the childish scrawling of the king. This will be given away. That’s a large and expensive exercise. It remains unclear who is coughing up for the free shirts.

The king’s also decided to “rehearse” the ride, promising even more traffic chaos and expense for the taxpayer.





The other Vichai story

31 10 2018

With all the eulogies for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha being wholly laudatory, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan is in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He said: “As opposed to the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… family man…”.

Nusara has been described as a “[f]ormer beauty queen who was runner-up in Thailand’s Miss Universe.”

Fans of Leicester City attacked Roan, variously describing him as despicable and an enemy of the club. He was told by some that he was no longer welcome at the club. These fans lauded Vichai and hated the fact that the BBC editor had, well, told the truth.

The claims by others were uncritical and blur truth. It was Britain’s Prince William who stated:

My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club…. I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red

There’s no evidence that Prince William’s claims are anything other than a repetition of the spin that has been associated with Vichai and King Power in recent years. The BBC mistress slip is just one aspect of this.

Lauding Vichai as something of a hero in the context of Leicester and Leicester City is understandable. Spin from a royal polo partner are also no surprise.

But the failure of the media to investigate more is disappointing.

After all, Vichai’s business history is of virtually inexplicable, very sudden and huge wealth. Yes, King Power is known, but the company and its founder are secretive. What is known suggests he may have grifted his way to great wealth, not least by polishing the right posteriors. Once he had great wealth, he selectively polished his own posterior by carefully managing his and the company’s limited media profile.

On the mistress claim, it is not at all odd to learn that a Sino-Thai mogul would hire an “assistant” who is a former beauty queen. That she might be a mistress is also pretty much “normal” in Thailand. Most Sino-Thai tycoons have a stable of mistresses.

And, of course, not just tycoons and not just Thailand.

But in Thailand, there’s a normalization of such relations. Politicians and military types are good examples. Gen Sarit Thanarat had a bevy of mistresses. Whispers about other leaders are only sometimes revealed, usually in squabbles over their ill-gotten gains. Examples included Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, Chatichai Choonhavan and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

And, of course, there’s the massive official silence in Thailand about the current king’s “troubled relationships with a succession of wives and mistresses.”

It is about power. For the tycoons, wealth means power and having a mistress is “normalized.” But that link between wealth, power and mistress should not be ignored.





Updated: King Power helicopter down II

28 10 2018

Most international reports are now assuming that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is dead following the crash of his helicopter in the U.K.

What is somewhat odd about these reports is that they are based on little official information and continuing silence on important matters from the football club, Vichai’s family and King Power. Even police are silent as they say they are investigating. There’s no confirmation of who was on the helicopter, whether some were taken to hospital or if bodies were recovered.

Fans of Leicester City appear convinced that Vichai was on the helicopter and that he died in the crash.

In Thailand, it seems that Vichai’s business and political allies know what has happened. The Straits Times reports that the media :

… zeroed in on another football baron, Mr Newin Chidchob, who owns local league champion Buriram United football club and was at Pullman Bangkok King Power hotel next door. The motorcycle enthusiast looked grim as he left the hotel with his entourage of superbikes.

Meanwhile, Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, “who said he had just spoken to Mr Newin” stated: “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”

Anutin added that Vichai was a “big brother,” stating: “He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly…”. Reflecting the norms of Sino-Thai tycoons, Anutin recalled: “I told him that I loved riding horses and, the next day, a nice horse was sent to me… That’s the way he was.” He does not explain what “self-made” means in the murky world of King Power’s monopoly.

Update: Leicester City has now confirmed Vichai’s death. The club’s statement includes confirmation that “None of the five people on-board survived…”. The report states that “Leicestershire police have named them [the others on the helicopter] as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, and pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.”





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:








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