More “commissions” and corruption

25 01 2017

The Bangkok Post today is a broadsheet of corruption and potential corruption. The stories range from a person identified as a senior official stealing cheap hotel art work in Japan to yet another admission of bribe-commissions in Thailand.

We can only think that the official forgot which country he was in. In Thailand, the great and powerful can do what they like. However, the latest story on a U.S. firm, General Cable Corporation, that has entered another agreement to avoid prosecution over commissions paid, continues to define business practice in Thailand.

General Cable “has agreed to pay $82.3 million to halt the U.S. government’s investigation into inappropriate payments to government officials in Egypt, Angola, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Thailand.” The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that:money

… [b]etween 2002 and 2013, General Cable subsidiaries paid approximately $13 million to third-party agents and distributors, a portion of which was used to make unlawful payments to obtain business, ultimately netting the company approximately $51 million in profits.

In Thailand, this scandal “involves the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) and TOT Plc.”

In the usual way, the agencies have “set up a panel to look into the case.” In the Rolls Royce cases, everyone is running for cover and the agencies who are investigating themselves reckon that they may not be able to get names and details to allow a result to “investigations.”

We feel a cover being thrown over the allegations. And no one has said much about how the payments began under the military regime led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and recognized great and good former unelected premier Anand Punyarachun. The good people always seem to have a cover of teflon.moneybags

Another story is about the military junta’s decision to buy submarines from the Chinese. Billions of baht. Who is getting the commissions on this deal? As we’ve said many times, commissions is normal, so we can’t help but wonder.

Yet another story is about a whiffy deal by the military junta to extend a “contract to manage a landmark convention centre [Queen Sirikit National Convention Center] in Bangkok by another 25 years instead of calling a new bid has drawn criticism it favoured a liquor tycoon.” The junta agreed to a state contract “with N.C.C. Management & Development Co (NCC), a company under the business empire of Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.”

The original contract was handed out in 1991, expired last year, and is now handed over for another 25 years. It is stated that “the renewal of the contract without calling a bid was stipulated in the previous contract.” Hmm, 1991. General Suchinda again or Anand?

Of course, Charoen is not only one of Thailand’s richest and its biggest landowner, but also a great royalist and with great links with the military. As a big donor to the palace, he’s surely great and good. But this quote seems to say it all:

Sumet Sudasna, president of the Thailand Incentive and Convention Association, said the failure to call a bid blocked the chance for other companies to compete with NCC and for the government to maximise its income from the property.

“The estimated return of 100 million baht a year or less than 10 million per month on average is too low, given the prime location of the QSNCC…”.



Updated: The military junta and its deadly toys

7 11 2015

Coconuts Bangkok has a link to an AFP report that raises some disturbing issues.

Of course, observers may expect that the military’s budget will increase when it has political power. Between 2006 and 2016, the Thai military’s budget will have tripled, from 78.1 billion baht to 207 billion baht. The story concludes that “[t]he kingdom’s well-oiled military has been handsomely rewarded in the last decade…”.

At the recent Defense & Security 2015 fair at Bangkok’s Impact Arena, “French anti-tank missiles, Swedish jets and American assault rifles” were on display despite the fact that “Western governments have criticised Thailand’s junta for toppling democracy…”. The report states that “more than 400 companies from 50 countries are showing their wares — including Britain’s BAE Systems, France’s Thales, Italy’s Finmeccanica and Lockheed Martin, from the United States.” The U.S. has recently approved missile sales to Thailand. Indeed, it is business as usual.

The report says that “Russian arms manufacturer Bazalt was even advertising a cluster bomb — the PBK-500U SPBE-K.” Another report from another arms bazaar describes this as:

The PBK-500U glide cluster bomb dispenser (the Russian acronym translates to glide bomb cassette, 500-kg caliber) is a single-use weapon that houses either a single warhead or multiple cassette elements. Unlike the previous generation, the PBK-500U can deploy at longer distances to enable standoff attack capability for tactical aircraft acting against targets with pinpoint anti-aircraft defenses.

The Thai military was accused of using cluster bombs on the Cambodian border under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Appealing to the Thai military might have been an armored 4×4 from an Emirati company said to be designed for “dispersing potentially violent crowd gatherings.”

A file photo from the Bangkok Post

A file photo from the Bangkok Post

Defense budgets are growing across the region. In Thailand, the report states that the “generous approach to its armed forces has not been without controversy, especially given the stuttering post-coup economy…. Critics say the military — which boasts one of the highest proportion of generals in the world — has a penchant for big ticket purchases it doesn’t need, including an aircraft carrier which currently has no aircraft.”

They do this for commissions that make them wealthy. Think submarines, GT200 magic wands, Russian planes for the monarchy (or maybe not), multiple suppliers of jet engines for THAI planes, and so on.

Update: Ukraine Today reports that “Ukraine and Thailand on November 3 signed a cooperation agreement on co-manufacturing armoured personnel carriers BTR-3 in Thailand…”. Deals between the two countries have been questioned in the past.

The sub money

10 10 2015

Long-time readers will know that PPT has, off and on, posted on the Navy commander’s desperation for commissions submarines.

A reader sent us the recent shenanigans:

Navy suspends submarine procurement 2 Oct 2015 | 09:58

The PAD preferred option on a used sub

The best option

Royal Thai Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm. Na Areenich disclosed that the suspension of submarine procurement was to allow the government to prioritize its economic concerns, especially problems faced by low-income earners.

That the economy is in trouble and that “consumption” of subs is unlikely to have any impact on the broader economy is reasonable. Certainly getting funds to the poor has impacts on broader consumption. Giving it to the already wealthy Navy commanders won’t help.

He also stated that the Navy had earlier proposed to buy three Chinese subs worth about 36 billion baht, “on the grounds that they can enhance Thailand’s defense capabilities.”

Royal Thai Navy will buy submarines 7 Oct 2015 | 07:39

Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan says the Royal Thai Navy’s project to buy submarines will not be stalled as it has been designed for the protection of Thailand’s natural resources.

Prawit changes tack. Take the money he says, because of the need to protect natural resources. Which resources are these? The few remaining trees? Gold mines? Potash mines? He claimed: “… it is important for the public to understand the importance of the protection of marine resources which are abundant in Thai waters.”

Marine resources? One definition of this is:

Under the broadest definition of the term, marine resources are the things that plants, animals and humans need for life that originate in the ocean. Different organisms derive different resources from the marine biome. Most organisms that require marine resources for survival live inside the marine ecosystem. However, some birds and land mammals also derive food from the ocean.

Fish. Nope, mostly gone for Thailand. That’s why slave-based fisheries are now mostly well away from Thailand, depleting the marine resources of others.

But go here, and scroll down a bit, and you see that some definitions include oil and gas. Given the royalist, yellow-shirt focus some years ago on Gulf of Thailand oil and gas resources, claiming Thaksin Shinawatra wanted them for personal gain, may suggest the need for subs to sink Cambodian any attempts to gain control.

Health and subs

6 07 2015

In a post a few days ago, PPT commented on The Dictator’s call for Thailand’s universal health care system to be “reformed.” His main claims were that it was too costly and that it was a populist policy, meaning it was Thaksinism.

Not surprisingly, Navy boss Admiral Kraisorn Chansuwanich said his lot had again decided to purchase submarines from China “through a government-to-government contract worth Bt36 billion and would propose for the purchase details to the Cabinet soon,” there were understandable comparisons between the alleged lack of funds for health but tons of money for military kit. Of course, the navy has been coming up with various schemes to get submarines for years.Beached sub

As a footnote to this story, it is reported that Prayuth advised that the “submarine proposal that had been planned for 10 years.” As our previous posts clearly show, he’s lying, as usual. Each time the proposal has come up, it has been rejected. There is no “plan,” other than to produce wondrous commissions.

The comparison between military greed and universal health care is so stark that self-appointed prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha “is attempting to shield himself from increasing criticism over the government’s plan to spend billions on the purchase of three submarines from China while dealing with a universal healthcare scheme running out of funds…”.

Prayuth said no “clear decision is yet to be made on either one,” and displayed his usual paternalism: “… do not link the healthcare scheme with the Navy’s plan to buy submarines. The government will consider the two matters with care…”. Trust me, I am The Dictator!

More threateningly, he used his usual claim of people behind those discussing the issue: “Do not make a mountain out of a mole hill or the ill-intentioned group may use it as a tool…”.

He probably means Puea Thai Party politician Watana Muangsook who wrote on this. “He said that Prayut[h]’s government would never do for the poor what it claimed it would, but would only benefit its cronies.” He added that the “government said it has no budget to help the farmer, but at the same time it has allocated more than Bt100 billion for the military officers who helped stage the coup last year…”.

When the military plays unsupervised

1 05 2012

Readers may have noticed that the military brass has, by their own standards, been quiet in recent weeks. Yingluck Shinawatra has seemingly decided to look the other way and allow the defense minister to decide what the miltiary should be doing.

As Sukumpol Suwanatat carries the moniker of Air Chief Marshal, it looks increasingly like putting the pudgy Billy Bunter has been put in charge of Mrs. Mimble’s tuck shop. Cream is being ladled on the pie very thickly indeed.

The Bangkok Post reports that ACM Sukumpol has “proposed naval officers receive basic submarine training in China.” Now how can that be? The idea of buying used submarines from the Germans was canned some time ago. Even in this Post report Navy boss Surasak Roonroengrom “said the navy cannot afford to buy new submarines…”.

But ACM Sukumpol and all of the armed forces bosses have been swanning around China and “toured the Qingdao Submarine School at the weekend, and thought that offering instruction to naval officers would be a good idea.”

Yes, a “good idea.” Has to be when the navy has no subs, has no money to buy them and trainees would have to speak excellent Chinese. So there has to be something else going on.

Inspecting Type 039 Song Class attack submarines, ACM Sukumpol said “the ministry was still interested in buying submarines and was in the process of compiling information about them.” Think of the commissions involved!

And he added: “China is like family. We are sincere with each other…”. Also at the Bangkok Post, the China-Thailand “family” is doing more to enhance relations with ACM Sukumpol as the incestuous matrimonial agent. He described the visit to China by the Thai military brass “as a call by ‘the whole family’ to China which is ‘our close relative’.”

What do relatives do when they get together? It seems they threaten and scare neighbors. The Post states: “Thailand and China have agreed to jointly develop multiple rocket launchers with a guidance system as part of a move to strengthen military ties.”

These are rockets that sound like guided missiles:

Under the new agreement, the Thai Defence Technology Institute will work with China to develop new multiple rocket launchers called “DTI-1G [Guided]” which will be more accurate and have a greater range [over 200-300 km] than existing systems….

If that doesn’t scare the Burmese, Cambodians and Lao, may be this will: “Multiple rocket launchers are known for their devastating capabilities and ability to deliver a large amount of ordinance simultaneously…”.

And just for a bit of fun, at the Bangkok Post, we learn that a Royal Thai Air Force cargo plane has skidded off a runway at the Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, injuring two.

The RTAF states that “the AGR 42-500 aircraft was on a training flight on the Don Mueang-Dhaka-New Delhi route between April 30-May 4.” As far as we can tell, there’s no such plane. We think they mean an ATR 42-500, which is a short range passenger plane, and this is confirmed in Bangladesh reports.

The last time PPT postedon the ATR 42-500 was back in 2009, when then Air force chief Itthaporn Subhawong presided over a ceremony at 9.09am on 9.9.09 receiving the first of four new ATR 72-500 royal aircraft. The air force had reportedly ordered these aircraft “at a cost of 3.65 billion baht at the time of the Surayud Chulanont government” following the 2006 coup.

The Dhaka media reports the event in more detail. One report states that three were injured in what seems like a pretty rough crash, smashing wings and breaking seats:

The crashed plane

Caab officials said the injured and other officials, who came to Bangladesh on a cross-country mission, are being taken care of by Thai embassy in Dhaka. The Thai Air Force members — eight officials and seven crew members– were supposed to leave for New Delhi today.

So is this a short-range royal aircraft that has crashed on a long-range “training” run or was something else going on?

There are all kinds of reasons for having the demonstrably unaccountable Thai military under the control of civilian authorities. By allowing the military to play with expensive toys and mess with policy unsupervised, the Yingluck government is encouraging waste and corruption. Of course, that is not unusual for Thai governments, but many soon learn that letting the military play by itself soon gets governments into trouble.

Subs torpedoed

6 04 2012

It is confirmed: the navy’s plan to buy used German diesel-powered submarines has been sunk. Earlier PPT posts on the earlier push for the U-boats are here: Give then subs!; Navy submarines resurface; Arms trading and the royals; and Corruption and the military.

But the report at the Bangkok Post also describes some rather disturbing descriptions of how decisions are made in the military:

A navy source said the proposed project had faced several stumbling blocks. First, there was a rumour the navy and the Defence Ministry had forwarded the plan to His Majesty the King for consideration. The navy still remembered His Majesty’s advice made in his remarks on the eve of his birthday in 2007. The King said submarines might not be suitable for Thailand as the underwater vessels could be bogged down in mud in the Gulf of Thailand.

But Supreme Commander Tanasak Patimapakorn strongly denied the rumour. “Rumour is rumour. His Majesty was never involved in this issue,” he said in a meeting with armed forces commanders at the navy head office on March 13.

A navy source said the rumour was spread as a tactic to block the plan to buy the German submarines.

Of course, the king was involved. Indeed, for some time, the king wasknown to be opposed to the navy having a submarine but seemed to change his mind following the coup. In his 2007 birthday speech, the king was cited on Russian subs: “A Russian one may cost just half the price of a German-made or a US-made one, but if we bought one from Russia, the US, for instance, might be upset. However, Russian submarines are very good.”* The story continues:

Then, it was believed that Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda did not give the green light to the project and the plan was also attacked by many former and present navy officers who were disappointed at seeing themselves stranded or moved to unfavourable positions in the military reshuffle last year.

While the navy chief has finally admitted the project is at an end, PPT can only wonder at the notion that significant decisions about strategic matters and involving millions upon millions of baht are somehow consigned to the purview of men with no known skills, training or expertise.

*Interestingly, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is about to be has just been sentenced in the U.S. after his capture in Thailand and extradition to the U.S.  For the alleged royal link, see PPT’s link to a New York Times article.

Give then subs!

28 03 2011

The army has its regularly deflated zeppelin, so why shouldn’t the navy have U-boats? Maybe because the used diesel submarines cost 1.28 billion baht each and 7.7 billion baht for the wolf pack.

This total cost is about what PPT reported some time ago,although the total number of vessels is up from two to six.

That earlier post suggested that the Thai navy was keen to get under water as part of a regional naval arms race. It was also clear that the navy reckoned they deserved more from the royalist government.

Having taken just a couple of months to complete its feasibility study, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva jumped at the chance to spend even more money on the military.

Interestingly, even the Bangkok Post is critical. It says:

It took a lot of silent running before Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed to add another 7.7 billion baht to the country’s deficit budget, just to buy submarines for the Royal Thai Navy. The prime minister may have kept negotiations secret because he feared the public would be outraged at such a deal. If so, he was undoubtedly correct. The decision to pay out 1.28 billion baht each for six used German submarines is excessive. The purchase came under strong criticism as soon as it was announced, and it is likely to attract additional negative comment in coming days, as it should.

Why is the Post critical? One reason is the cost, with the argument being that the money could be well-used elsewhere. Another reason is simply that “Germany stopped using the U-206 submarines last year because they are outdated and too expensive to maintain.”

The Post editorial goes on to observe:

It is difficult but necessary to consider criticism such as that by Surachart Bamrungsuk of Chulalongkorn University. The political science lecturer told this newspaper that the hugely expensive submarine purchase is a way for the Democrats to win the military’s political support.

Of course! Is this election, when it is finally held, goingto be the most expensive election ever? If all the buying of support is included, the answer has to be yes. What happens if the royalist party loses?!

Navy submarines resurface

23 01 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Royal Thai Navy wants to buy two second-hand submarines at a cost of 6-7 billion baht.” This is a new take on a story that keeps coming back. For PPT’s first mention of it, see here (also see this), but the desire for underwater goes deeper than this.

The PAD preferred option on a used sub

It is great news (perhaps) to know that the “navy has set up a committee to conduct a feasibility study.” The odd thing, without such a study the greedy sailors seem to want Cabinet to approve the funds “in principle.” Picking up second hand submarines is not as simple as buying a Mercedes (preferred land transport of navy commanders in Thailand), unless the official pirates want one of these. And we trust these submariners-to-be have read this important post.

The navy brass wants subs, this time, because they want “Thai sailors have little knowledge of submarine technology, which is constantly upgraded.” Have the captains been spending too much time with bottles of rum? They say: “We are still backwards in terms of submarine technology.” That sounds odd to us: they don’t have any subs but they need to be familiar with them, so buy some. Circular logic (or lack thereof)? However, the rum gurglers are thinking of the country because they only want used subs at 6-7 billion baht because the current government has been dishing out money trying to win an election sometime in the future repairing the economy.

To be serious, however, this is a story that has been about for a considerable time, and has a royal connection and a link to Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer. And, we recognize that buying used submarines can be a way of training crews for a serious purchase (but is Thailand able to consider a serious purchase?).

Thai navy purchases - like an aircraft carrier - sometimes are as useful as this submarine

Siam Voices has a useful take on the story, pointing out that the navy is keen to get German Type 206 diesel-electric submarines that were designed for use in relatively shallow waters (important for the Gulf of Thailand). Submarines have  topped the navy’s wish list for some time.

Some would suggest that the rise of China’s blue water navy is causing a mini-arms race amongst Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia has French submarines and the Singaporeans have several Swedish submarines. Burma seems interested in a submarine, but hasn’t progressed a deal with North Korea, the Philippines doesn’t have submarines, and Cambodia’s navy only uses patrol boats. The Indian navy has some 15 Russian-designed and German-designed submarines. Vietnam has 6 Russian-built submarines and Indonesia has similar vessels and German-built submarines also. It is claimed that “Thailand had four Japanese-made submarines in the past, but they were never replaced after decommissioning because newer models were too expensive.”

While there may be an arms race going on, there is also a plan to invest more in the Thai armed forces. There’s no doubt that a major motivation in this – said to be costing up to 400 billion baht – is a desire to defeat domestic political opposition, including southern insurgents and (currently) red shirts (as pointed out in the Post story). Hence, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is a supporter of his backers.

Perhaps the stumbling block for the navy’s subs is not just cost but also the king’s stated opposition several years ago. As usual, until he withdraws his objections, then the deal is likely to stagnate, along with the under-the-table commissions that come with all these arms deals.

Updated: Arms trading and the royals

20 08 2010

Update: Fascinatingly, the New York Times story now posted has removed all of the references to royal advisers…. Of course, there could be several reasons for this change. Because of the change, we include all of the original article below our original post.


Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a really interesting account of the court appearance of alleged Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. He notes that a Thai court has ordered Bout’s extradition to the United States as he is “suspected of running a large-scale arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.”

Then it begins to get interesting. Fuller says that “Russia, which had been seeking to prevent Mr. Bout from being placed in the American legal system, reacted angrily to the ruling.” Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister,said: “Based on the information we have at our disposal, the decision was made under very strong outside pressure. This is lamentable.” Obviously some of that outside pressure has to do with the US.

It has never been clear why Bout was in Thailand. Fuller sheds some light on this matter, drawing on the court case. He says:

One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court, but Captain Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, Mr. Bout’s lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout indeed traveled to Thailand to take part in a project tied to the royal family, his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

Speculation about the navy being in search of a submarine has been about for several years. However, submarines for the navy were one project sunk under the Thaksin Shinawatra government. Following the 2006 coup, discussion of navy subs re-emerged. In November 2007, the navy said getting a submarine was its top priority. Indeed, for some time, the king was said to be opposed to the navy having a submarine but seemed to change his mind following the coup. In his 2007 birthday speech, the king is cited on Russian subs: “A Russian one may cost just half the price of a German-made or a US-made one, but if we bought one from Russia, the US, for instance, might be upset. However, Russian submarines are very good.”

Earlier, in 2005, the king had appointed Admiral Chumpon Pajjasanon, a former Navy commander-in-chief, to the privy council. Before being “named Navy commander-in-chief in October 2003, he had served as commander of the RNV Tong Pliu, RNV Phra Thong and RNV Tapi, chief of combat operations, deputy chief of staff for submarines, commander of Coastal Defence District 3 and Navy chief of staff.”

PPT wonders if there is something in the NYT story? If so, extraditing Bout to the US for trial could result in some embarrassing revelations.

The original NYT story:

BANGKOK – A Thai court on Friday ordered the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman suspected of running a massive arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.

The decision, which overturns a lower court’s ruling in August 2009, is a victory for the Obama administration, which this week summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to the State Department to “emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States,” a spokesman said.

U.S. prosecutors say Mr. Bout, 43, commanded a fleet of aircraft to send weapons to rebel groups and warring countries around the world. He was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation two years ago.

Mr. Bout stood after the ruling was announced and embraced his wife and daughter, who wept. He said nothing to reporters in the courtroom as he was being led out in leg irons and an orange prison uniform. The court ordered his extradition within three months.

Mr. Bout’s lawyers had argued that the request to extradite Mr. Bout was part of a pattern of the United States reaching beyond its borders to punish its enemies. Chamroen Panompakakorn, Mr. Bout’s principal lawyer, alluded to the rendition of suspected terrorists by the U.S. government and argued that the overall credibility of the United States government had been tarnished following the failed search for weapons of mass destruction Iraq.

A panel of judges in August 2009 sided with the defense and wrote in their decision that Mr. Bout’s “guilt cannot be determined in Thailand.”

The court on Friday did not contradict this but said there was enough evidence to extradite Mr. Bout to the United States.

“This case has to be further pursued in a court in the United States that has jurisdiction,” said Siripan Kobkaew, one of three judges who read parts of the decision on Friday.

Mr. Bout’s notoriety helped spawn the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” and his arms dealings are detailed in “Merchant of Death,” a book by two American journalists who describe Mr. Bout’s dealings as falling into a “legal gray area that global jurisprudence has simply failed to proscribe.” Mr. Bout has delivered weapons into Africa and Afghanistan, among other places, but has also flown missions for the U.S. Pentagon in Iraq and the United Nations. Sometimes Mr. Bout was hired to fly in arms to a particular group, the authors note, and then was paid by the U.N. to deliver humanitarian aid to the same area.

Mr. Bout was arrested in March 2008 at a hotel in Bangkok after agreeing to sell millions of dollars worth of arms to undercover agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It remains unclear why Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand. One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court but Capt. Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand to take part in a royal-related project his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

The case has put Thailand in the awkward position of referee between Russia and the United States. Thailand is one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia but Bangkok’s relations with Russia have warmed considerably since the end of the Cold War. The country’s beach resorts have become a major draw for Russian tourists looking to escape the long winters.

The case has offered a window into the scale of arms trafficking. During the meeting in March 2008, Mr. Bout told the undercover U.S. agents that he could deliver 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 assault weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, land mines, C-4 explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the U.S. indictment.

United States prosecutors filed fresh charges against Mr. Bout in February alleging that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, sought to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in 2007 using front companies. The sale was in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions and was blocked.

Corruption and the military

18 02 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation (18 February 2010) sees a good side to the GT200 scandal, covered extensively by various newspapers and Bangkok Pundit. Pravit thinks the “GT200 hoax is forcing scientists to encourage Thais to become more rational.” He thinks that “superstition trumps logic in this country.”

He asks: “How else can one explain Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and forensics department chief Pornthip Rojanasunand insisting on using the so-called bomb detectors even though a Science Ministry test had proved that they are basically useless?”

Perhaps another way of looking at the issue is to think that corruption trumps all. In the Thai military, getting a snout firmly lodged in the trough is the most important task for all good generals.

The GT200 and related device purchases have cost Thailand of probably close to 1 billion baht, and that’s not counting the cost of deaths, human rights abuses and harassment that have derived from the use of a divining rod.

Wassana Nanuam (The Bangkok Post, 18 February 2010) points out that army commander Anupong Paojindawas the one who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The devices are mainly used in the south where Wassana says the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) now employs about 60,000 personnel in the South. The army has put in about 40,000 soldiers from 55 battalions around the country. The budget for the southern operation is more than 100 billion baht a year. A lot of the money has gone into the procurement of weapons.

She then turns to the army’s recent 350 million baht purchase of an advanced zeppelin which the army has named Sky Dragon.” The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. Wassana explains that the airship is the brainchild of Gen Anupong and his second-in-command, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. They envision the airship as a sky-based surveillance and command station.” Leaving aside obvious questions about this assumption, the problem is that the airship can’t do what it is meant to, and there has even been trouble getting it into the air. The airship has seepage holes and it initially costs 2.8 million baht to inflate and then 280,000 baht a month to top-up. There has been considerable criticism.

The army decided to put on a show two weeks ago that was meant to deflect criticism. Thai PBS dutifully carried a long and generally positive report on this show. However, even the show flight was a failure and, according to Wassana, it remains in a hanger.

General Anupong had reportedly agreed to purchase three airships for the army. Wassana asks: is it a bigger sham than the GT200?” Maybe she meant “scam”?

At Bangkok Pundit on 6 February 2010, a comment was added by Reg, encouraging Bangkok Pundit to look into the zeppelin case. “Reg” stated: Why this machine and not drones as used almost everywhere else for this kind of recon work? What’s the track record of this model? What’s the price paid elsewhere? Have you seen dirigibles used in other insurgency situations? Seems like there’s a smell there as soon as it is wheeled out. A quick Google seems to suggest that this is a Thailand first (a manned airship for counter-insurgency).

Correspondent “Reg” then turns to the company involved and its website. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers .

Reg concludes: “I remain suspicious, but maybe that’s just because everything the military buys involves commissions etc. But, hey, you might want to congratulate the RTA for a 10 million dollar gamble that might show the world of counter-insurgency the way forward via a penny company.

PPT agrees with Reg; there is a smell and the odor is money and corruption.

On a broader note, these are just examples of what happens when a military is politicized, when it runs a coup, and then has its budget increased by leaps and bounds. This is why there are so many very wealthy generals. This is what happens when a government owes its position to the military. The generals are in charge and they are hauling in the loot as fast as they can.

There are plenty of other examples. Just today the navy is reported to want two used submarines. Maybe they can dock them next to the used and idle aircraft carrier they bought several years ago, with planes that no longer fly.

Forget superstition, the beliefs driving these events are power, arrogance and filthy lucre.

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