Updated:Commentary on the recent and next monarchy II

16 10 2016

A few more interesting articles have come out since our earlier post.

New Mandala has two further posts worthy of attention. One is by Christine Gray who writes about the censorship involved in writing about the monarchy. She sees the end of the reign as a chance for positive change but also an opportunity for violence, more censorship and a broth of blood.

Another New Mandala piece by anthropologist Edoardo Siani and historian Matthew Phillips. Unlike the largely trite and treacly journalism of the last couple of days, reflecting decades of subservience to palace propaganda, this post makes some excellent and important observations that go beyond grief and tears.

An oddity in the media is from the SCMP, about the Sino-Thai response to the king’s death. Writing about ethnic Chinese almost seems a throwback to decades past. That said, the king was half Chinese and he played a role in ensuring the loyalty of millions of Chinese congregated around Bangkok. Some of the views expressed are not necessarily in line with the treacly reports mentioned above.

The prince continues to be the focus of most of the critical stories that have become available. A quite extensive story at the New York Times by Alison Smale and Thomas Fuller. Readers will know many of the details of the story yet they are put together in an informative manner, including details from the little German town of Tutzing, on Lake Starnberg, where the prince appears to prefer to reside.

We noticed the comments of former foreign minister Kasit Piromya on the queenly qualifications of the prince’s current spouse, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya: “She’s an air hostess, very lively, highly intelligent…. She can ski, she can bike. She loves music. She knows what is good wine in Italy.”

The Wall Street Journal had an earlier report we initially missed, on the prince. There’s much well-known stuff – maybe WSJ readers need background – but also some nuggets:

Some people familiar with the situation say he is familiarizing himself with the workings of the Crown Property Bureau, one of the country’s most important landowners and the holding vehicle for much for the monarchy’s wealth.

To say the least, that is certainly an interesting observation.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a very important “note” titled “WHAT’S GOING ON IN THAILAND? Confusion reigns as crown prince waits.” Well worth a read.

Read these

22 02 2016

If you have time, these stories from the past few days, are worth a look:

Thomas Fuller, New York Times correspondent, has been posted back to the United States. He has an excellent final story, trying to sum up some tumultuous years. It has the disgusting quote from the horrid Abhisit Vejjajiva: “Unfortunately, some people died…”. There’s a lot in the story and we will miss his excellent reporting on Thailand and his efforts to explain the monarchy, its wealth and politics to American audiences.

The Guardian on Princess Sirindhorn’s magnificent Cambodian potty room constructed by Siam Cement Group using its shareholder funds, meaning there’s a magic circle – princess-SCG-CPB-princess. Incidently, if you read the story, you will see that PPT was right to suppose that the royal bum exudes some magical quality to the toilet, meaning no mere mortal can use it after her.

Speaking of money down the toilet, Prachatai has a translation of Nidhi Eowsriwong’s article where he asks: What’s the point of having a military? A very good question! When it was originally published at Matichon Online on 13 January 2016 it created quite a stir, with even The Dictator having a hissy fit that anyone should question why Thailand needs a bunch of money-grubbing murderous, thieving and lying thugs operating with state sanction.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s Monk Trouble on the politics of the monkhood under the junta and in the red-yellow splits. PPT can’t follow this stuff too closely so we were pleased that someone tried to explain things.

Future of monarchy in Thailand is uncertain

21 09 2015

That is part of a headline in the New York Times for an article by Thomas Fuller on the king’s declining health. The article will certainly anger the military junta and rabid royalists.

It will be especially galling as the article quotes persons identified by the junta as “anti-monarchy.”

The article begins:

After nearly seven decades on the throne, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, the keystone of Thailand’s identity and a major unifying force for the country, is in declining health. With increasing frequency, the palace has issued medical bulletins detailing his ailments, and in recent days his youngest daughter has led prayer sessions following a Buddhist rite normally used for terminally ill patients.Senile king

PPT doesn’t think the king unifies, unless this means a murderous alliance with the military, palace propaganda and rightist vigilantism.

That line of buying the propaganda and repression continues: “While reverence for the king was once the only thing that this fractured country could agree on, today the future of the Thai monarchy is uncertain.”

That’s also untrue, and there is plenty of history to demonstrate that there has always been opposition to the monarchy.

The article talks of the prince:

The king’s heir apparent, the jet-setting crown prince, has a reputation as a playboy and faces an uphill battle to win the trust and adoration his father has achieved. Many Thais hoped that Princess Sirindhorn, the crown prince’s sister, who has won hearts through her charitable causes and dealings with the poor, might succeed her father, but palace law bars women from the throne.

Happy togetherThe prince gave up trying to emulate his father years ago and left the space for his sister to fill. She’s been the center of the (almost) post-Bhumibol propaganda, and has benefited from limited scrutiny. The prince seems to not care for this limelight. Meanwhile, the military junta has been cleaning up for his succession, sorting out his personal inconveniences by jailing his former wife’s family and replacing her with a woman who will probably be queen.

The article has a link to six recent lese majeste cases, noting that the law restricts discussion of succession and the future of the monarchy. Even so, the article refers to a “growing underground republican movement…”. The article states that:

The republican movement was precipitated in part by the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon turned populist politician whose influence and popularity in rural areas were seen as threats to the royal establishment and Bangkok’s urban elite.

It quotes Sulak Sivaraksa:

The current anti-monarchy movement is due to the very fact that the monarchy is now made into almighty god…. The more you make the monarchy sacred, the more it becomes unaccountable and something beyond common sense.

The strength of the movement is unknown, but as author Fuller states:

One way to assay the strength of the anti-monarchy movement might be by sizing up the military government’s efforts to counter it. The junta, which claims legitimacy from the king’s blessing, has positioned itself as the institution’s ultimate defender.

The ruling generals have been aggressive in jailing critics of the monarchy and this year alone are spending $540 million, more than the entire budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on a promotional campaign called “Worship, protect and uphold the monarchy.”

The campaign includes television commercials, seminars in schools and prisons, singing contests and competitions to write novels and make short films praising the king. The military also erected giant statues of past kings in the seaside town of Hua Hin, but said they were financed by private donations.

“This is not propaganda,” Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the junta, said several months after seizing power last year. The youth, he said, “must be educated on what the king has done.”

It is also a part of preparing for the succession. Former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is quoted:

Mr. Kasit, the former foreign minister, said the bicycle tour was a “turning point” for the prince.

There are no more doubts inside the military establishment as to who will be the next monarch of Thailand,” Mr. Kasit said.

PPT thinks that’s accurate and it is one of the few times we have agreed with the erratic Kasit. And, it is in the military’s interests to maintain the critical link to the monarchy:

Rejecting the 1997 constitutionThe military’s backing of the prince, indeed its alliance with the monarchy, is seen as mutually beneficial. The king is the head of the Thai armed forces and must endorse all new governments and major appointments. Critics say the military and Bangkok establishment are leveraging the king’s power to bolster their own.

Fuller observes that the political divisions of recent years remain:

Military rule has papered over those [political] divisions, silencing critics and jailing former members of the government. But unifying the country remains the most pressing challenge for both the junta and the future king.

While the article concludes with advice from Thailand’s 5th and most absolute of its “modern” kings, which he didn’t necessarily follow himself, the real final word belongs to critic-in-exile Somsak Jeamteerasakul:

The situation of the Thai monarchy will not remain like this for many more years…. There are two options for the future. Either transform to a modern monarchy like in Europe or Japan or don’t change and become definitively demolished (a republic). There is no third choice.

Updated: Recycling 2006 propaganda

11 07 2014

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that “Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow has urged US media to gain a better understanding of Thai politics, explaining the latest putsch in Thailand differed from coups in other countries in several ways, especially the ‘benevolent intentions’ behind seizing power.”

Sihasak has a record of switching sides, having once been an avid supporter of Thaksin and then deftly switching to the royalist side around the time of the 2006 coup and then the election of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. He was the one who was asked to defend lese majeste and a trail of human rights violations (murder of red shirts by his current bosses, cluster bombs, human trafficking, etc.) when he was posted to Geneva.His great ability is his English language. He now “serves as acting foreign minister…”.

So he’s a slippery and unprincipled character. Just the kind of person a military dictatorship would want to send out to defend its 2014 coup.

Sihasak landed in New York to tell “US journalists about the background of Thai politics and the coup’s motivations, as well as the junta’s three-step plan leading to democracy.” Only a deluded junta can imagine that journalists in the US covering Thailand will be fooled by a throwback junta’s Orwellian doublespeak. That his propaganda exercise was directed at “two senior representatives from The New York Times” speaks volumes for the impact Thomas Fuller’s accurate and incisive reporting has had.

Sihasak says: “I tried to explain why the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] had to seize power. I told them the coup was aimed at restoring peace and moving democracy forward…. It was Thailand’s last resort to bring the country back to normalcy and the coup helped maintain democracy, not destroy it…”.

Right. So the repression, crackdowns, arrests, intolerance of dissent, trashing of the law and constitution, and the implementation of a lese majeste regime is about restoring democracy (after the junta has destroyed its opposition).

The New York Times is not, we expect, so gullible as to believe such errant nonsense.

Sihasak’s recycling of 2006 justifications for the military-palace coup must amuse the journalists. He says he told them: “If there was no change on May 22, there may have been bloodshed. The army had no choice…”. Lacking ideas and justification for a coup, the military dictatorship makes it up, using words that are exactly the same as in 2006.

Sihasak reportedly also “met the Asia Society’s executive vice-president Tom Nagorski, and proposed a joint meeting on the Thai-US relationship, inviting American policy-makers, members of Congress and think tanks familiar with Thailand.”

This sounds remarkably like the deal Abhisit and his government engaged in back in 2009 and 2010. The appearance at the Asia Society by then Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in 2009 was a disaster when he was unprepared and spoke in yellow-shirt style.  Yingluck appeared there as well after her election and had an easy task, not having to defend a pathetic unelected regime or a bunch of military despots.

Still, the junta seems to think that a bit of the ancien regime’s blarney might convince those who have had the scales removed from their eyes. Treating the foreign audience as political nincompoops is unlikely to be a viable strategy in 2014.

Update: More horse manure from Sihasak reported at the Bangkok Post. The Post says that the Sihasak reckons “United Nations agencies are still confident in Thailand’s role as a leader in the region despite the military coup…”. Sihasak “met the president of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly John W Ashe, the chef de cabinet of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Susana Malcorra, and president of the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) Martin Sajdik.” We are unsure how Sihasak came to his conclusion when the report states that all he met said that Thailand should return to democracy. That might be what the military dictatorship says but no reasonable U.N. official could believe them. The claim that “Ecosoc chairman Sajdik saw Thailand achieving success by adhering to the rule of law, justice and transparency” seems a bizarre interpretation and suggests that Sihasak is making stuff up or the report is missing something.

The Army and its flood PR

16 11 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a useful account of how the disgraced Army has used the flooding as a public relations exercise to rehabilitate its public and political image: “Troops and army trucks are rolling through the streets of Bangkok again. But this time it is not to battle protesters or overthrow a prime minister.”

PPT is not yet convinced that the Army isn’t preparing to do the latter, but as Fuller makes clear in this first sentence, the floods are being grasped by an Army and their commander as a means to fight back against their disgrace at having killed civilian protesters in 2010 and their enormous loss of face when the electorate voted against their favorites to elect a government General Prayuth Chan-ocha had pointedly warned against putting in government.

Fuller says that this time they are “ferrying residents around the city on heavy-duty military vehicles that can get through its flooded streets, with banners on each one reading “Royal Thai Army helping the people.” Most also have English-language signs, just so the international media knows that camouflage painted trucks are Army vehicles.

For examples of the kind of pro-military propaganda that has become all too common, see this article in the Bangkok Post. Oddly, and reflecting some peculiar debates on the nature of the Army’s flood relief work and perhaps the Army’s own PR too, the Post has the story filed under “charities”). Remarkably, there was a far more realistic account in the same section of the newspaper on the very same day, and it is certainly worth a careful read.

Fuller observes that “Thousands of soldiers have been sent to the capital to help civilians.” Of course, if press reports are to be believed, far fewer were sent to the areas most heavily impacted by the floods. The top brass seems to have courted political impact more than anything else. (The official death toll is now 562, with 38 in “Greater Bangkok,” defined as including Prathumthani, Nakorn Pathom and Nonthaburi provinces. As far as PPT can tell from the data, no one is officially reported to have died in the Bangkok Metropolitan area proper.)

Fuller also observes that “the military has broadcast a series of slick television advertisements showing its soldiers as more than just battle-hardened fighters, including one in which children learn about soldiers who build roads and tend to the sick. ‘We are the people’s army,’ says a voice at the end of the ads.”

PPT wishes that it were true; we can only observe that the military has a reprehensible history of repressing, gunning down and killing its own people. And, as Fuller points out, General Prayuth who says, “I want people to love soldiers,” is the same man “who led the troops that broke up antigovernment demonstrators in Bangkok last year in a violent episode that left at least 90 people dead…”.

Meanwhile, Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation states: “After launching nearly 20 ‘successful’ coups d’etat, the Army has established a firm presence in Thai politics, arguably becoming almost a state within a state. Now, the flood crisis and the Army’s role in assisting flood-affected residents has, whether intentionally or not, reinforced this view and suggested how difficult it would be for Thailand to cut back on the power and introduce solid civilian control over the top brass.” That’s the point of Prayuth’s “charm offensive.”

None of the charm changes the Army’s ultimate political position. As Pravit says, “the Army is increasingly affirming itself a major ‘semi-independent’ political player, claming to be the ultimate defender of the throne and the country.” That self-proclaimed role means that the military will continue to choose when it can ditch out civilian and elected governments. The current PR blitz makes that a potentially easier task for the undemocratic Army.

Pravit essentially pleads that: “Repeated military interventions will only further weaken civilian control of the Army, which is not elected and thus not accountable, and eventually render the system ungovernable because there is still a substantial section of Thai society that will no longer put up with another putsch. As supporters and cheerleaders of military rule continue entertaining these prospects, Thailand would do well to understand their myopic and draconian minds better.”

NYT on censorship and the monarchy

4 10 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times keeps many Americans abreast of events in Thailand. Hence, his report on censorship and lese majeste is going to be widely read in the English-speaking world. In his most recent article, he paints a troubling picture regarding the ideas and infrastructure of lese majeste repression. He begins by describing the first-ever visit by journalists to the bowels of institutional lese majeste censorship and repression:

Down a maze of neon-lit corridors in a massive government complex here is a windowless room where computer technicians scour the Internet for photos, articles, Facebook postings — anything that might be deemed offensive to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family.

The technicians work in what is called the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crimes. The government that came to power in July prefers to call it the “war room,” the headquarters of a vigorous and expanding campaign to purify the Internet of royal insults.

The officials are a “team of 10 computer specialists led by Surachai Nilsang, whose title is cyber inspector.” Surachai indicates the ideological dimension of repression that might be similar to that heard from goose-stepping ideologues in North Korea: “The thing that drives us to do our duty is that we love and worship the monarchy…”.

The visit indicated that cyber-technicians “in the war room have blocked 70,000 Internet pages over the past four years, and the vast majority — about 60,000 — were banned for insults to the monarchy…. Each blocked page requires a court order, a request that judges have never turned down, Mr. Surachai said.”

Fuller observes:

Because the monarchy remains a taboo subject in Thailand and is often discussed elliptically, the motives of those who attack the royal family remain largely a matter of speculation. After his six decades on the throne, public protests against the king are unheard of in Thailand. And not even the most strident anti-establishment protesters would openly call themselves republicans.

Surachai confirmed that the number of anti-monarchy pages “increased sharply after the September 2006 military coup.”

He says that: “Some cases of lèse-majesté are clear-cut…”. Others involve royalist and frightened officials searching for “metaphors” in so-called “code words.” Here Thai officials become the royalist Gestapo.

Fuller notes that “the campaign against royal insults, which some compare to a witch hunt, worries many Thais, including groups of writers, academics and artists who say the lèse-majesté law is easily abused.” He adds that: “In August a group of 112 professors, both Thai and foreign, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that said the crackdown threatened “the future of democracy in Thailand.”

War room technicians say they receive “from 20 to 100 e-mailed complaints a day. Like Thai society itself, the e-mails are split between supporters and detractors of the crackdown.” A 24-hour call center “to handle reports of Internet abuse receives dozens of calls a day. But many are frivolous.” Many are prank calls.

Surachai revealed that he “uses a ‘spider,’ a specialized computer program that trolls the Internet and flags potentially offensive content. He then often consults with a special military unit attached to the king’s palace to inquire about the veracity of some Internet postings.”

When one of the senior officials decides to block, Surachai follows orders.

This is rather bleak material but captures the nature of lese majeste repression exceedingly well.

Crown versus the public

13 08 2011

Thomas Fuller in the New York Times has looked at the issue of the German seized-now-released Boeing 737, which the Thai government claimed “belonged” to Prince Vajiralongkorn and asks exactly the right questions.

He notes that, in the final days of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, a deal was struck whereby the Thai taxpayer paid a bond for the release of an aircraft the government claims “belongs” to the prince. As PPT stated in its second post on this saga, the question of ownership raised serious issues of the relationship between crown and public.

Fuller makes the same point when he states that the Thai government’s actions “left unanswered was the question of who, precisely, owns the plane.” As he summarizes,

The case underlined a long-unresolved, and rarely discussed, question about the privy purse and the public purse in Thailand — and, ultimately, whether certain assets are held by crown or by country. At issue are an estimated 1.1 trillion baht, or $37 billion, in real estate holdings alone, plus substantial stakes in two of Thailand’s most successful companies. But the agency that manages the assets, the Crown Property Bureau, is under no obligation to detail the holdings or how profits are spent….

Fuller associates this ownership with the CPB and it needs to be emphasized that it is not clear that the plane seized by the Germans had anything to do with the CPB. What Fuller does is draw attention to the broader issue of crown property. PPT won’t go through all the details in Fuller’s article, although if it is blocked in Thailand, readers can email us, and we’ll post it all. Here, we’ll just make a few of the important points.

Fuller notes that “the subject of the crown finances remains mostly taboo in a country that regularly enforces a strict law against criticizing the monarchy. The media in Thailand reported on the controversy over the crown prince’s plane, but the episode did not generate commentary in the mainstream media about the larger questions of ownership.”

As PPT has noted several times, the lack of transparency and control of the CPB by the monarch is associated with the current reign. The opaque management and operation of the CPB is becoming a serious issue, and it scares those who manage the CPB so much that they have taken baby steps to trying to appear more transparent. As Fuller says, “Much remains unknown about the bureau’s assets.” In fact, his statement is weak; almost nothing significant is known.

He notes that, in 2008, Forbes magazine “ranked the Thai king as the world’s richest royal, the Thai government strongly protested, saying the magazine had conflated the king’s personal wealth with assets managed by the bureau.” As others have pointed out, this is a nonsensical response. Only the crown controls the CPB and no recent government has ever sought to change this situation.

Fuller adds that income from the CPB “is separate from the approximately $350 million in taxpayer money allocated for the royal household, royal-led development projects and other expenses related to the royal family.

In fact, PPT thinks $350 million of taxpayer money is an under-estimate. For example, in the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s last budget the first three lines of the Ministry of Finance’s allocation was for royal things and amounted to about $100 million. Line after line in the budget allocates funds to the royals. This is public information, but as far as PPT knows, going through the Budget Bureau’s allocations has not been a task yet completed.

As Fuller points out, the “king and his family also have personal assets” and it is this arena where the prince’s Boeing 737 seems to have landed, if the government is to be believed.

Fuller reckons that the monarchy’s wealth is seldom questioned “because King Bhumibol commands widespread respect after more than six decades on the throne and because of the law protecting the monarchy against insult.” PPT reckons that the first factor really only applies to government and the bureaucracy. No one is willing to question the deals done by individual royals or by the CPB.

Fuller’s parting remark is important, and a point we’d missed: “As for the specific question of the prince’s plane, a German court was supposed to rule on its ownership in September. But with the aircraft now back in Thai possession, the case is closed.” That’s another of those eye-opening moments! Of course!


Links to recent coverage of Somsak case

12 05 2011

PPT is short on time at the moment, but has been pleased to see so much coverage of the charges against Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Links below highlight crucial items of interest. PPT hopes to have more time to offer analysis in the coming days.

Achara Ashayagachat, Prachatai, 11 May 2011, “Somsak Gets Warm Support”

Thanapol Eawsakul, Prachatai, 11 May 2011,  “On the Lese Majeste Proceedings Against Somsak Jeamteerasakul”

Yojana Sharma, University World News, 11 May 2011, “Thailand: Academic Charged in Watershed Political Case”

Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation, 12 May 2011, “Lese majeste under increasing scrutiny”

Thomas Fuller, The New York Times, 12 May 2011, “In Thailand, Tensions rise over royal family role”

NY Times on the failure of investigations into deaths and injuries in April-May 2010

25 01 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a story on those injured and killed in April and May 2010. It needs wide circulation and considered reading. It begins:

A zookeeper was shot and killed as he was leaving work. An anti-government demonstrator who sought shelter in a Buddhist temple was shot five times but lived, possibly because a coin in his satchel deflected a bullet. A soldier who rushed to help a fallen comrade after an explosion suffered severe brain damage from a second blast. The tales of the dead and wounded from the political violence last year in Bangkok could fill volumes. But they are not filling case dockets in the Thai courts.

He notes that the now 8-month investigation into the more than 90 killed and thousands injured and wounded appears to have “faltered.” What’s more, the so-called Independent Fact-Finding Commission for Reconciliation complains that “the military and the police are refusing to cooperate.” Because of the failure of authorities to provide information and to be interviewed, the “commission, which on Monday postponed a meeting at which it had planned to issue an interim report, now says it is not sure when the report might be ready.” This failure includes police, military (Somchai Homlaor, a member of the commission says: “We have sent them many letters and never heard back from them — at all.”), the government’s forensic department, which has not responded to requests for autopsies, and “telephone companies [that] are not cooperating…”.

What does the military say? Colonel Sansern Kaewkumnerd, a military spokesman, previously of CRES, said military representatives had twice met with the commission “last year” and “gave them all we have.” He added that “he was not aware of further requests for information from the commission.”

PPT has no doubt that Sansern is dissembling yet again. It is clear that the military knows far more than they will ever admit. And we are not alone. Fuller cites “Teera Suteewarangkurn, a law professor at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said the military leadership feared it would face a public outcry if it admitted that soldiers had killed civilians.” Teera also notes that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government “is concentrating on winning elections, which must be called by the end of the year”, and therefore “needs to drag its feet,” on the investigation. Jaran Cosananand, a professor of law at Ramkhamhaeng Universit, says the “legal process here has had unusual delays…. Political power undermines the law in Thailand.” Fuller concludes that the “military’s refusal to cooperate in the investigations underlines the ascendance of military power in Thailand.”

Fuller’s story gives attention to the victims of the violence, including soldiers, and has a photo essay here.

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.

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