Who were the men in black?

5 10 2010

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

Newin Chidchob

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a shambles.





Red shirt action

20 01 2010

Update: Almost as soon as PPT posted about it, the red shirts have called off their proposed airport rally (nationmultimedia.com/2010/01/20/politics/politics_30120737.php). Apparently, they were just “thinking about it.” Perhaps, but the reaction they got was remarkable. They continue with small rallies at multiple sites.

***

The red shirts are using small rallies to get plenty of attention.

The Bangkok Post (20 January 2010) and most other media outlets have reported a red shirt plan to rally on the road leading to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport next week.

Business leaders are reportedly “alarmed” and “frantic” and stocks fell 1.39% yesterday, which analysts linked to the red shirt threat, even though the fall was in line with mixed results elsewhere in Asia (Bangkok Post, 20 January 2010 ).

Red shirt/United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) spokesman stated that the rally “would not disrupt airport operations or interfere with passengers.”

Business interests recall, though, that the closure of Suvarnabhumi in November and December 2008, by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), caused immense damage. The PAD rally was supported by senior members of the Democrat Party, including the current finance minister and minister for foreign affairs. More than a year later, no legal action against the PAD has been completed by their allies in the current government.

Satit Rungkasiri, the director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Fiscal Policy Office, whose own minister supported the PAD actions, warned that “an airport closure would be akin to ‘national suicide’.” He added that: “If the airport is closed due to political protests, it would be a problem for the economy on par with the Map Ta Phut dispute. No one, no country, could accept a second closure for its main airport…”.

So a first closure is acceptable, but not a second closure?

The Thai Hotels’ Association said “Thailand’s global image would be ‘destroyed’ if the airport was closed.” Its president urged the government to do “everything, even if it means drastic measures, to protect the airport…”. Meanwhile, logistics operators “expressed hope that the government and security forces can prevent any serious fallout if a rally occurred.”

Red shirt leader Natthawut Saikua stated that “the rally was intended to press for progress in the prosecution of the UDD’s political rivals, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, for its extended blockade of the airport in late 2008.” Natthawut said the “purpose was to determine if certain people were receiving preferential treatment with regard to the law…”.

He said the “protest would be peaceful. The group would not lay siege to the terminal and they would not block off the airport’s entrances.” He added that they would not obstruct traffic and it would not be a protracted affair.

Meanwhile, red shirt pressure continued against Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont over Khao Yai Thiang. Red shirt visits to the “homes of other privy councilors” were planned. Science and Technology Minister and senior Democrat Party member Kalaya Sophonpanich “slammed the UDD for linking her family [the titans running the Bangkok Bank and related enterprises, with close links to General Prem Tinsulanond] to alleged land ownership irregularities at the Khao Soi Dao forest reserve in Chanthaburi. She said it was irresponsible to make indiscriminate accusations and lambasted the movement for claiming Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda had something to do with the questionable land occupation.”

The political temperature continues to rise.

As a footnote, taxi and limousine drivers are looking to close Phuket airport in a protest over corruption (see here).





Investigating the Suvarnabhumi occupation very, very slowly

12 09 2009

There is an interesting story in The Nation (11 September 2009: “Top cop changed head of airport probe before quitting”). As PPT reported earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed to solve his police problem when the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) investigation into violence during the People’s Alliance for Democracy occupation of parliament on 7 October 2008 found against the police chief, General Patcharawat Wongsuwan.

Police General Patcharawat is not going quietly. This report states that he “signed an order just before he stepped down to change the head of the police probe into the yellow shirts’ seizure of Suvarnabhumi Airport late last year.” It adds that he signed the order just 2 days after the NACC “found grounds for criminal and disciplinary action against Patcharawat over his role in the crackdown on an anti-government mob outside Parliament on October 7.”

Patcharawat replaced Police Lt-General Wut Phuavej with Police Lt-General Somyos Phumphanmuang. The report says that Lt-General Wut “was seen as siding with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). He took to the PAD stage and defended the yellow shirts in front of the Royal Thai Police Club last July when the PAD voiced upset at being charged with terrorism for their mass protest at the new airport.”

So it is now clear why this investigation has been proceeding at a snail’s pace (remember this?). But will things change?

The report states that Lt-General Somyos is “close to Newin Chidchob, the de facto leader of Bhum Jai Thai Party, and Vichai Raksriaksorn, owner of King Power, which runs the ‘duty free’ outlet at airport.” This might suggest that nothing much will change. However, it also gives Newin a card he can play in inter-party rivalry within the coalition government.

As a footnote, Suvarnabhumi airport’s monopoly duty free operations – granted under Thaksin Shinawatra’s government – have been under scrutiny recently (try Googling “Suvarnabhumi scams”) and King Power’s Vichai Raksriaksorn has been ranked as one of Thailand’s richest by Forbes. Chang Noi mentioned him recently and King Power’s SEC listing is here. Vichai is a keen polo player and has been president of the Thailand Polo Association, and loves teaming up with Britain’s Princes Charles and William and being pictured with them in Hello magazine. PPT is unsure how close he is with Thailand’s royals, where polo is not so pukka.