Updated: Where there’s smoke…

22 02 2021

Which fire will the police bosses want to extinguish? There’s the gambling fire, the drug smuggling fire and the elephant ticket inferno.

Of course, the latter inferno can’t be touched as it directly involves the monarchy, so lese majeste repression is the way the regime has jumped, trying to shut down talk that has spread like wildfire. The gambling scam is well known and the cops have been getting away with it for decades, so the usual response is a few transfers a couple of arrests, a period of studied silence, and then back to normal corruption. The funds from gambling go throughout the force and beyond and are absolutely necessary for the “normal” operation of the police.

However, it is reported that the drugs scam might get some attention. The problem is that it also involves the monarchy.

National police boss Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk is reported to have “ordered a probe into opposition claims during last week’s censure debate that a police colonel and a police lieutenant general were involved in the smuggling attempt of 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine in Tak that was foiled on Oct 18, 2019…”. Naturally enough such lower-ranked officers would normally be working for higher-ups in the force.

But then we learn that the “investigation” will be completed by week’s end. We can’t help but wonder. For many investigations, the cops take years and decades. A cover up? Perhaps. After all, “police spokesman Pol Maj Gen Yingyos Thepchamnong responded … during the censure debate” saying that “although it was difficult to prove the involvement of the officials, police ‘would try their best’ to establish what had happened.”

But then there’s the neat bit:

Torsak

Last Wednesday, Pol Lt Gen Torsak Sukwimol, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), assigned Pol Lt Col Ekkasit To-adithep, a member of the bureau’s working group on special crime suppression, to file a defamation charge with the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) against the administrator of a Facebook page called Sanap Sanun Patibatkan Tamruat (“We support police operations”).

Pol Lt Col Ekkasit said the Facebook page published details and a photo of Pol Lt Gen Torsak in a manner that misled the public about Pol Lt Gen Torsak’s alleged role in the 2019 drug case.

Provincial Police Region 6 had already investigated Pol Lt Gen Torsak’s alleged involvement in the case and at the time he was cleared of any wrongdoings.

We all know who Torsak is and the power and influence he has amassed being close to the palace. He was mentioned in the censure debate. But the thing that PPT recalled was that earlier post we had on Torsak. In it we stated:

Torsak has been moving up for several years.He now finds himself in demand for all manner of activities and clearly enjoys the limelight. One of the most intriguing reports we located was his association with the Chinese-Thai Global One Belt One Road Association, formerly known as Hokien International Chinese Cultural Association, formerly chaired by the Democrat Party’s Alongkorn Ponlaboot.

We wonder why all those links have been removed….

Update: Khaosod has an excellent reflection on some of the issues mentioned above. Police spokespersons went to ground. Among other things it states:

During Friday’s no-confidence debate, Rangsiman said 20 police officers were exempted from the official criteria for a promotion and fast tracked to a higher position after their names were listed in “The Elephant Ticket.”

The ticket is said to be a document signed by Royal Household Bureau sec-gen Sathitpong Sukvimol, who asked a certain institution for permission to vault those men up their ranks.

The promotions were granted, even though Sathitpong – whose previous positions include the head of the Crown Property Bureau – does not currently have any formal position in the police force.

Mentions of the “Elephant Ticket” appear to be mentioned for the first time in an investigative report by MGR Online news agency back in 2017.

“The best kind of Ticket, or promotion recommendation letter, that has never been refused, no matter what the requested positions are, is called Elephant Ticket,” the article said. “This fact is only known within the police circle.”

 





The royal elephant in the room

20 02 2021

Reading a report at the Thai Enquirer on Move Forward’s Rangsiman Rome and his speech in parliament requires insider knowledge.

Reporting that he “showed the four-page document from 2019, when the Royal Thai Police force was under the leadership of [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and of current Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wangsuwan,” it is left to the reader’s imagination and inside knowledge to work out what this is about, adding:

The so-called chang or elephant ticket is allegedly a list of police officers assured of promotion. The ticket, according to Rome, is a vehicle for positions and connections within the police, bypassing the official merit-based system for promotion.

Immediately the hashtag #ตั๋วช้าง began trending, used millions of times.

Like an earlier politician forced into exile, Rangsiman spoke of the patronage system. Rangsiman implied “Prayut and Prawit were aware that such corrupt practices were taking place, accusing the administration of allowing the police to indulge the ‘godfathers’ operating gambling dens and the drug trade, while cracking down on pro-democracy protestors like criminals.”

The closest the newspaper gets to talking about the elephant in the room is when it reports that the MP said “he was aware that he was breaching a dangerous taboo against some of the country’s most powerful vested interests.” That’s code for the monarchy and that he was speaking of the involvement of the palace in police promotions and corruption was clearer – but still unstated – when he said:

This is probably the most dangerous action I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said during the hearing. “But since I have been chosen by the people, I will fight for the people…. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I have no regrets over the decisions that I have made today.

It is Khaosod that reports the speech more directly, helped by the slimy lese majeste bully Suporn Atthawong.

According to this report, Rangsiman’s “bombshell revelation” was that “a handful of government favorites and a royal aide can dictate appointments and removals within the police force at their whim…”.

He went further, saying that the documents showed that “police officers can gain immediate promotions without going through the formal route if they manage to obtain a ‘Ticket,’ a document signed by Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, the commander of the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.” That’s the younger brother of the king’s most important official.

The link to the palace is clear:

The MP said the scheme is run by Torsak’s brother, Sathitpong Sukvimol, who serves as Lord Chamberlain to the royal palace. Documents shown by Rangsiman shows that Sathitpong in 2019 wrote to a certain institution asking for 20 police officers to receive either new ranks or titles.

The slimy Suporn has rushed in with Article 112 allegations:

We have transcribed every word and letter of the speeches that Mr. Rangsiman Rome referenced the monarchy…. Our legal team has looked into it and concluded that the information is sufficient for prosecution under Article 112.

Of course, the king’s previous interference in police promotions has been well-documented. A recent academic piece, drawing on Wikileaks, summarizes this, stating that Vajiralongkorn twice “intervened in matters to do with the appointment of the national police chief, in 1997 and 2009, both seemingly with personal motives…”. We also know that there were several periods when the king was crown prince that there were rumors that he was involved with crime figures.





Further updated: The company they keep

6 02 2021

Readers might have noticed that the Bangkok Post had a story about police arresting Sia Po Po-arnon – aka Apirak Chatharnon and Apirak Anon- described as “a net idol, former celebrity boxer, former House adviser on gambling…“. He was taken in on “charges of organising online gambling.”

At his house, it is reported that “police also arrested his follower, Pacharapol Chansawang, and 25 Myanmar workers, and seized a gun and 11 bullets for examination.”

We don’t usually follow “celebrity” news, but this one got our attention because of his links to the regime and royalism.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

It was in August last year that “a House working group on whether to legalise online gambling invited … [Sia Po] to participate in its deliberations as an adviser.” At the same time, Palang Prachachat appointed “another possible [sic] gambling tycoon Pol Lt-Colonel Santhana Prayoonrat to advise the task force…”.

As we recall it, it was a regime party that issued the invitation for Sia Po. It came from “Palang Pracharat Party MP Arun Sawasdee” who wanted advice the committee because Sia Po had “earned a name for himself for being a successful gambler in international casinos.”

The international gambler said: “I will accept the position of adviser, but will not get into politics” before saying he didn’t accept it. With such vagaries, who knows what was really going on. What we do know is that the military’s party was inviting gangsters to advise them.

What kind of dark influence is Sia Po and how does he fit in with the great and the “good”? We only searched the Bangkok Post and came up with plenty.

The first report we found was from early 2018, when he was arrested at the home of Wiphakorn Sukpimai when he claimed he “answered a distress call from her…”. He said his arrest was a set-up as she had “lent him more than 50 million baht in a gambling venture and now want[ed] the money back…”. Describing him as a “celebrity boxer and social media personality,” he was said to be armed.

He seems to have been engaged in some kind of standover operation and was in dispute with the equally shady Wanchalerm Yubamrung also over gambling money. Sia Po and Wanchalerm are Thonburi gangsters.

Not long after, Wiphakorn “posted images of her former lover, Sia Po …, taking drugs. She added she was helping police with inquiries into claims that Sia Po and his ‘gang’ liked to give unwitting victims drugs, film them secretly, and blackmail them.” Sia Po later admitted that the images were of him, but claimed he was in Cambodia at the time.

The next time we see him in the press is as a leader of a vigilante group and behaving very much like a mafia gangster, “demanding 24 men detained there for Sunday’s intrusion at Mathayomwatsing School apologise for disrupting the university entrance exams.” He led a gang of “about 100 supporters,” declaring that the “men who raided the secondary school had defied the law. He and other people from Bangkok’s Thon Buri area decided to visit the men and warn them about their behaviour.”

In another pro-law-and-order stunt, in late 2019, Sia Po was associated with a “100 million baht cash handout to flood victims in the Northeast, money he claims was raised from unnamed casinos across the border.” He posted images of himself “unpacking bundles of used 1,000 baht notes ready to hand out to flood victims.” Some said he was “trying to rehabilitate his image” after the drugs, standover, money laundering, and gambling events described above. He was supported by arch-royalist Bin Bunluerit.

Somehow or other, the next time we see him, SIa Po is promoting a skincare product and then complaining that “fraudsters on the net are impersonating his name in the venture and siphoning off customer’s money.” They must have been either brave fraudsters, willing to risk the wrath of the Sia Po gang, or in cahoots with him in scamming the public. But, the plot thickened. He trotted off to the police saying “11 customers had been deceived with total losses of about 10,000 baht.” Really? And he offered a reward 10 times that amount. Fishy? You bet.

Then, in May 2020, we find Sia Po at odds with Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s supporters. A couple of weeks later, described as “well known as a donor to worthy causes,” he’s blaming “a falling out with a politician for his latest troubles with the law, after police told him he is facing money laundering charges stemming from an online gambling case.” He grumbled that the unnamed politician had “tampered with a picture online to make it look as if I was bad-mouthing the monarchy, and took an old clip of me encouraging Thais to gamble and spread it about the net to defame me further…”. In tru godfather style, Sia Po said “he was confident his case doesn’t qualify as money laundering.” He “explained: “It’s true that I gamble across the border, but Thai law doesn’t apply there and I don’t bring the money back.”

Soon after, Sia Po “was arrested after he turned himself in to police for questioning about a wild shootout in Bangkok in which two men were wounded.” He went to the police station at 3am, with “Santhana Prayoonra, a former deputy superintendent of Special Branch Police.” It is standard practise for influential persons to get influential police or military figures to attend police stations with them – it is about pressuring smaller people.

It is stated that Santhana:

was sacked from the police force for serious disciplinary violations and stripped of his rank, effective Oct 31, 2002, and his royal decorations were recalled. The announcement was published in the Royal Gazette on Oct 30, 2018, as reported by Thai media.

The report states Sia Po: “was accused of shooting and wounding two men in front of Saree Sauna&Spa shop on Ratchaphreuk Road in Bang Wa area, Phasicharoen district, on Tuesday night.” This happened as rival gangs met. Sia Po told police:

… he was a regular customer at the massage shop. He was there with three friends. His brother Khemmathat had made an appointment with two rival men, identified only as Tang and Tua, to meet at a liquor store on the same road, not far from the massage shop.

The talks broke down and afterwards Mr Khemmathat and about 10 friends came to meet him at the massage shop….

A shootout ensued, apparently involving more than 200 gang members and scores of shots fired. Of course, Sia Po claimed he was unarmed. Even so, police “arrested him on charges of colluding in attempted murder, illegal possession of a firearm, carrying it in public and firing shots.” Two men were taken to hospital, one shot in the mouth and another shot in the backside.

He was released on bail, with Santhana acting as “guarantor.” It is stated: “The Thon Buri Criminal Court granted him temporary release on bail with a surety of 350,000 baht. No conditions were set for his release.”

Royalists together

Not long after, Sia Po “found himself an unwitting accomplice after a disgraced senior policeman accused a well-known rescue worker of helping himself to public funds.”

It all revolved around a royal donation/self promotion scam campaign: “Sia Po had offered to donate money to a royal fund-raising project at Siriraj Hospital after he was contacted by Bin Binluerit … asking if he would like to help…. In return for his cash, the hospital, which is raising funds for a building in honour of King Rama IX, would issue pink T-shirts with the royal insignia for Thais to wear.”

It is all way too complicated – the royal association makes for weird reporting – but it seems Sia Po said he would stump up “20 million baht to help Thais wanting to turn out to see His Majesty.” We assume the live king, not the dead one. It also seems that the company supplying the shirts for Siriraj had produced hundreds of thousands and was not shifting them. Not by coincidence, the businessman behind the Siriraj scheme was reportedly the owner of the factory pumping out the shirts. So big buyers were needed to shift the royal shirts (not an unusual practice). Sia Po was to take 300,000.

But the whole scam scheme came undone when “Sia Po was arrested for the shooting outside the Saree Sauna&Spa shop…”. When he was bailed, his:

guarantor was his friend Santhana … who was to play a role in the hospital funds drama…. In May 2018 he was also charged with extorting money from vendors at Don Muang New Market. Sia Po found that with the legal case pending he could no longer transfer funds….

Reportedly, as happens in gang wars, Santhana began to lean on Bin. Using his connections in the police, and said to be accompanied by Sia Po, “Santhana … asked police to look into Bin’s role in the fund-raising effort.” As expected in a corrupt set of arrangements involving police, the dismissed Santhana:

… saw the newly appointed national police chief, Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, on Dec 9, and … followed that up with a visit to the Crime Suppression Division where he sought to lay charges against Bin of attempted fraud, asking for donations without consent, Computer Act offences, and making false claims on behalf of the monarchy.

The Post account added “a new twist to a strange affair” with Sia Po and Santhana suddenly donating “2 million baht to Siriraj Hospital’s fund-raising campaign, along with 20,000 pink T-shirts to be distributed to the public.”

Still described as a “net idol and former celebrity boxer,” Sia Po then took up his role as “adviser” to a “working group of the House select committee on law, justice and human rights, which is mulling changes to the gambling law,” pitching for legalized online gambling. With a straight face, Sia Po explained that his role was not political: “I don’t want to mess with politics. I want to protect my honesty…”. The honest crook’s role was explained:

Arun Sawasdee, Songkhla MP from the Palang Pracharath Party, who sits on the panel, said MPs wanted to know if online gambling could be controlled better.

Members invited Sia Po, who faces charges of money laundering and enticing Thais to gamble online, and is well known for his ties to casinos across the border, to speak to MPs, because of his “knowledge” in this area.

Guess who else was invited to provide information to the panel: “They also invited another city identity with a colourful past, former deputy superintendent of the Special Branch Police Santhana Prayoonrat, to testify.” What a surprise!

This is not an unusual situation. What is unusual is the level of reporting. We have only scratched the surface in one English-language newspaper. It tells us how deeply-rooted corruption is within this regime. We do not say that similar situations were not evident in earlier regimes, but this story well and truly shows the links between regime, police and criminals (dark influences). Put this together with a regime party that has deputy ministers who are convicted heroin traffickers and political quislings and you see that the whole structure is rotten to the roots.

And the rottenness infects everything right up and into the palace. Older readers will recall that Prince Vajiralongkorn had to repeatedly deny his involvement with crime figures.

Update 1: A reader asked for a source for Vajiralongkorn denying he was a mafia boss or associated with criminal gangs. Here’s a UPI report.

As we finished the above post, another gambling report came out in the Bangkok Post. This report concludes with this:

The CIB chief made it clear this police action had nothing to do with the arrest of Siapo Po-arnon, a professed gambler who advised a House panel on the possible legalisation of online gambling.

Siapo, real name Apirak  Chat-anon, 29, was arrested at his house on Phetkasem Road in Phasicharoen district of Bangkok on Thursday morning. He allegedly operated an online gambling website.

Maybe. It sure sounds like a scam he’d be associated with and the arrest sounds very similar to Sia Po’s own arrest a few days earlier. Perhaps it is just the police cleaning out competition for their own scams? Who knows, this is murky and getting murkier. There are interesting elements to the report. One is that the information is coming from Pol Lt Gen Torsak Sukvimol, the CIB chief.

Last time we saw his rank, Torsak was deputy head of the CIB. Now he’s reported as boss. Of course, he’s also head of the king’s “Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.” He’s also reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).”

Torsak stated that the operation had “more than one billion baht in bets in circulation…”.

Update 2: It is reported that, following his arrest last week, Sia Po remains in jail, denied bail. It also reports that his mother is being sought by police for involvement in his schemes and scams. While all of this is interesting and reflective of the deep-rooted corruption among the elite in Thailand, we can’t help wondering about royal involvement. This feels somewhat like earlier purges of powerful criminals following falling out at the top. No evidence, just observing a feeling we have.





Erasing the monarchy’s legal boundaries

15 01 2020

In a real constitutional monarchy, the monarch does not get (publicly) involved the day-to-day affairs of government. Thailand is not a real constitutional monarchy. Increasingly, King Vajiralongkorn is deeply involved in the regular affairs that are usually considered the work of government.

As far as PPT can discern, his interventions (and those in his name) are extra-constitutional.

Torsak

The most recent example of this is reported by Khaosod.

The Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guards 904, a commando unit attached to the king and answering to him, are involving themselves in an ongoing manhunt for a man who robbed a gold store and killed three in the process.

The cold-blooded murders, the manhunt and social media speculation that the murderer appeared to be military-trained, have made the investigation big news.

Perhaps it’s the publicity potential or maybe it is just the interventionist nature of the current monarch, but this maneuver into civilian affairs is bizarre and revealing.

Deputy commander of the Central Investigation Bureau Maj. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, who was last reported to be head 1600-strong unit, visited the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guards 904 to give “his moral support for the unit to swiftly identify and locate the robber…”.

Maj Gen Torsak is well-connected. He is reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).” Sathitpong is arguably the most powerful non-royal in the palace.

The king’s own police force was previously reported as being a special tactical unit of elite bodyguards “responsible for a variety of high-profile tasks, from providing security to the [r]oyal [f]amily to training local police in VIP protection.” Nowhere can we find any role for it in investigating everyday crimes.

Even so, Maj. Gen. Torsak “ordered the Ratchawallop Police Retainers to join the manhunt for the unidentified gunman on Jan. 10. The police unit was instructed to assist local police in the operation, and closely monitor the progress.”

It seems to us that King Vajiralongkorn is making any notion of constitutional monarchy untenable. This seems congruent with his power and land grabs and his erasure of the democratic and anti-monarchy beginnings of the constitutional monarchy.





Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





Guarding the king

30 05 2019

Over the past few years the number of police and soldiers assigned to the palace has reportedly ballooned. Part of this has to do with the military credentials of the current king. Some of it has to do with the great fear that is generalized among the elite over challenges to its control.

Some might ask why the king, who spends most of his time in Germany, needs an ever larger force of “protectors.” Again, part of the answer probably has to do with the king’s training and his desire for pomp and circumstance and his personal need to command. Notice that he’s incessantly promoting people – especially wives, concubines and dogs – and demoting. It may also reflect, as the media sometimes has it, that the king is establishing his own force to contend with the martial power of the military.

It was in October 2018 that PPT first posted on reports about a new and special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy.” At that time, the new unit of 1,600 personnel, was said to be made up of “police commandos transferred from the Crime Suppression Division.” It is said to be “providing security to the Royal Family” as well as “collecting information on ‘individuals or groups whose behaviors pose a threat to the national security and … the King’.”

A later post recounted that this represented a quadrupling of the police force assigned to the palace and was costing the taxpayer a minimum of 300 million baht for salaries alone.

At that time, the force’s commander, then Pol Col Torsak Sukvimol (ต่อศักดิ์ สุขวิมล), “explained” that this huge increase in security, including intelligence units and additional “patrolling” is required when the “king visits different parts of the country.” This seems like blarney. We haven’t detected any particular increase in any royal trips, except to and from Europe.

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post carried yet another report on now Pol Maj Gen Torsak and the renamed “Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.”

Torsak

Maj Gen Torsak seems to be well-connected. He is reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).”

That ACM Satitpong has served the prince/king for many years and that he is “trusted” is confirmed by his rapid promotion not just in the palace but within the king’s businesses.

Obviously assisted by his family connections, Torsak has been moving up for several years.He now finds himself in demand for all manner of activities and clearly enjoys the limelight. One of the most intriguing reports we located was his association with the Chinese-Thai Global One Belt One Road Association, formerly known as Hokien International Chinese Cultural Association, formerly chaired by the Democrat Party’s Alongkorn Ponlaboot.

But back to the recent report in the Post.

Pol Maj Gen Torsak explained that “his team is responsible for the advance surveillance of areas which the King will pass through as well as guarding the monarch and his family.” He added that the unit “will not be deployed to deal with crime suppression, so it can focus on protecting the monarchy at all times…”.

Yet he claimed a populist role for the unit, being sent to “ordinary duties to capture those who have long been wanted under warrants, particularly in cases in which they made trouble for the public.” That populism is also seen in the report when, lapping at Torsak’s boots, it portrays him as a benevolent autocrat.

All officers undergo stringent anti-terrorism training and get the most up-to-date weaponry. As Pol Maj Gen Torsak explained, “I believe that we also must have the best weapons for our officers…. They must protect themselves along with the VIPs and to do that they must be well-armed.”

It is never made clear which people or groups constitute the threats to the king and royal family. We wonder about the unit’s international operations.

Having ealier spoken of lese majeste, he is was again quoted on Article 112:

Speaking of the lese majeste law, Pol Maj Gen Torsak said the King gave guidance that he does not want to see anyone prosecuted under the lese majeste law as it can be “a double-edged sword”, adding the monarch has always shown mercy.

Some people may misjudge the situation from things they have heard, he noted.

“The King gave guidance that no punishment should be made in relation to Section 112 [of the Criminal Code] since some people may have misunderstood or listened to false information,” Pol Maj Gen Torsak said.

The monarch wants authorities to treat the matter on a case-by-case basis with a committee investigating the intentions behind supposed breaches, he said.

Not short of ego, Pol Maj Gen Torsak said “his nomination to the top job at the new division did not happen by chance…. ‘I have earned the King’s trust by working hard for him,’ he said.”

King’s Guard 904 needs to be carefully watched as it expands as a power center within the palace but with the potential for widespread influence and action.





All the king’s servants II

7 10 2018

A few days ago PPT commented on the formation of a special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy” and especially the king. An AFP report adds a little more on this force of “[m]ore than 1,600 police … assigned to protect Thailand’s King … Vajiralongkorn and his family, … quadrupling the force as the new monarch continues to reorganise palace affairs.”

The report has all the blarney about the monarchy being “sacred and untouchable” and the dead king being “revered as a demi-god among Thais.” Presumably all this buffalo manure is meant to allow the reporters to say that this monarchy also needs “by some of the harshest royal insult legislation in the world.” But insufficient posterior polishing to allow them to observe that anti-monarchism was widespread before the military junta targeted and snuffed it out (at least for the time being).

Head of the upgraded royal security police unit, the Special Service Division, Col Torsak Sukvimol, said that it currently had a paltry “400 personnel from the Crime Suppression Division … which has long been tasked with protecting the royal family,” and needed to be increased to a total of 1,617. While recruiting and training the officers could take up to five years, that is still a minimum additional taxpayer impost of 300 million baht a year just in salary costs.

Col Torsak “explained” that this huge increase in security, including intelligence units and additional “patrolling” is required when the “king visits different parts of the country.”

As he went on, Col Torsak added that following the king’s “coronation, there is going to be more royal activities…. Four hundred people is not enough.” That will probably worrying a lot of people, as the interventionist king seems to be planning to be even more involved.

Helpfully, Col Torsak said that the “unit has not been tasked with scouring the public for violations of the kingdom’s draconian royal defamation law…”. We guess there are hundreds of others doing that. But he did add: “We will not be aimed at monitoring people for 112 prosecutions. The 112 charge will not be wielded repetitiously…”.

That will indeed be a relief. However, computer crimes and sedition are more likely to be used in cases the junta would normally use for its opponents and the monarchy’s critics. At the same time, the junta’s draconian use of 112 has already cut down and silenced the bravest of critics.





All the king’s servants I

3 10 2018

In a short article at Khaosod, the formation of a special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy” is reported. This isn’t a new story as the unit was mentioned about a month ago.

The military government’s official announcement does, however, add a little more information.

The new unit “consists of police commandos transferred from the Crime Suppression Division.” It is said to be “providing security to the Royal Family” as well as “collecting information on ‘individuals or groups whose behaviors pose a threat to the national security and … the King’.”

That the unit “must also carry out ‘royal wishes’ from … the King” suggests that the force of 1,600 officers is adding to the large numbers of military officers who already report directly to the king and provide “protection.”

The commando unit is led by Col Torsak Sukvimol, who stated that all members of the unit were selected based on their “attitude and loyalty [to the monarchy].”

The king now commands a substantial military and police force. It is not clear why the king feels he needs such a large force that answers to him.