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

25 09 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then in 2017, it was reported that:

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

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

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

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

A pattern? You bet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





King Power and the king

22 11 2018

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

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

That concession allocation was controlled by the military.

As the report explains:

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

King Power’s monopoly concession ends in 2020.

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

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

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





The other Vichai story

31 10 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Vichai’s political location

30 10 2018

The Nation was quickly off the blocks with a eulogy for Vichai Raksriaksorn-cum-Srivaddhanaprabha. It lauds him as a “master of the big deal.” What, exactly, does this mean?

The articles observes that Vichai was “the key figure behind the huge success of King Power International, Thailand’s duty-free shopping giant,” adding that he “bagged many big deals … including their latest acquisition – the MahaNakorn development project, Thailand’s tallest mixed-use tower – at Bt14 billion.”

The Nation says that Vichai was “a son of Wiwat and Prapasorn Raksriaksorn. He graduated high school from Woodlawn High School, US, and did his bachelor’s from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ramkamhaeng University, and got a degree from Northrop University’s Business Administration Faculty in the US.”

There’s a couple of Woodlawn schools in the US. However, Northrop University is known for having been de-registered in early 1992 for an array of corrupt activities, poor administration and low standards.

The report claims “Vichai became a vastly experienced businessman, both from his own and jointly-managed companies,” but the companies pale into minuscule insignificance when compared with King Power, which was founded in 1989. He had some experience with Downtown DFS (Thailand), but King Power eclipsed and pushed aside Downtown/DFS and all other competitors for concessions at the airports.

Vichai’s move into duty free began with “the country’s first downtown duty-free shop as a joint venture with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, before expanding the business to Cambodia, Macau and China, as well as Thailand’s international airports.” The company’s own history is brief but worth a look while wondering how it all happened. It states that it received the airport monopoly concessions in 2006, whereas an AP report states: “The granting of King Power’s monopoly status at Thailand’s airports — set in motion in 2004 by the government of since-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — caused some controversy.” PPT looked through standard references and at our newspaper clippings, but could not confirm the AP account. (Readers can let us know.)

Exactly how King Power achieved its monopoly remains opaque for us. What we do know is that duty free shopping creates all kinds of advantages, one of which is huge cash flow, which has grown by leaps and bounds as tourism has expanded to enormous growth. The report states that “Vichai controls and chairs $3.3 billion (revenues)” from King Power in a private company with a board studded with children and other relatives.

The report notes Vichai’s close link with Newin Chidchob and also mentions a close connection to the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. It doesn’t mention his links with Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.

His “passion for sport, especially polo and football” is also listed.

Exactly how Vichai came to be “ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest person in Thailand in 2018 with US$4.9 billion” remains something of a mystery. His wealth is huge but he also pays 2 billion baht a year for the Suvarnabhumi airport concession.

But then there’s the fact that in 2012 “the family was bestowed the new family surname Srivaddhanaprabha by … the late King Bhumibol – the name means ‘light of progressive glory’.”

Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Vichai was an extraordinary royalist and supported many royal causes. He has credits for the yellow wristband for the king.

Political backstopping, royalism, and opaque deals and bureaucratic linking seem to be a pattern for fabulous wealth for a well-connected few.





Updated: King Power helicopter down II

28 10 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





King Power helicopter down I

28 10 2018

Most readers will already know that a helicopter that usually transports King Power boss and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has crashed and burned shortly after take-off from Leicester City’s latest game. As we write this, there is no news of Vichai’s fate or whether he was on the ill-fated flight.

A Sky News report tends to gloss Vichai’s life, so we thought a rundown of the posts we have had on Vichai might be in order. He is a man who became very rich very quickly based on a monopoly for duty free sales in Thailand, has rightists and royal political connections, including being associated with the funding of anti-democrats, and a royally-bestowed family name. PPT’s posts go back to 2009, not long after we began:





King Power monopoly assured

19 09 2018

Some time ago a private individual – former anti-graft official, Chanchai Aitsarasenalux – accused airport monopoly holder King Power and Airports of Thailand with failing to collect 14 billion baht that should have been paid to the state. He took them to court.

The outcome is now available. As usual, big money and military connections help, and a “judge at the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases said on Tuesday Mr Chanchai ‘was not an affected party, therefore he cannot sue in this case’.”

Case closed without investigation. Taxpayers potentially screwed again.

Maybe not. Chanchai says he will appeal.

The fabulously wealthy clan with a royally-bestowed family name that own King Power is available here, here and here.

 





Footballing oligarchs II

24 05 2016

Less than a week ago, PPT posted on the penchant of oligarchs for football and snapping up teams that promote their interests and, if things work out, make them even more money.

As everyone in the world knows, Leicester City recently collected some silverware as outsiders made good. As we noted in that earlier post, the club has been owned by football-loving, polo-playing oligarch, monopolist and royalist Vichai Raksriaksorn (who has a royally-bestowed moniker, Srivaddhanaprabha). Vichai made oodles of money through his monopoly on duty free at Thailand’s airports, through his company King Power.King Power

Thailand’s airports have long been the property of the military. They are now part of a listed company, Airports of Thailand. Now the Ministry of Finance controls 70% of AOT’s stock but four of the 14-member Board of Directors continue to carry military ranks. As far as we can tell, only one of the directors of AOT is not a serving or retired official or worked for AOT. The senior executive of AOT continues to have quite a few military ranks listed.

In other words, gaining a monopoly on duty free requires high-level political support and close relations with the senior brass. Exactly how Vichai managed this in the beginning has never been made clear. He went from unknown to billionaire in a relatively short time. King Power began in 1989, with a license granted for Thailand’s first downtown duty free shop at Mahatun Plaza. How it was that King Power got the Chatichai Choonhavan government to award the license isn’t easily seen, but as Chatichai opened to the former enemies across the border, King Power got a license in Phnom Penh soon after. By 1993, King Power had Don Muang airport under its wing. All of this during a period of civilian versus military political tussling.

In a story linked to below, The Nation states:

In addition to the ruling junta, the wealthy businessman has managed to build good ties with both politicians and military figures in powerful posts. And thanks to these cosy relationships, his company has managed to win coveted deals from influential people at key times, including a concession to operate duty-free shops at major airports that has grown into a Bt68-billion-a-year business.

Now that he and his kids – the Sino-Thai tycoon model of family business – are on top of the world, what does this mean for Vichai and Thailand’s politics. Some measure of this comes from recent press reports on Leicester City in Thailand.

An AFP report states that the “Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval … at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, with the Thai-owned team presenting its trophy to a portrait of the king before a bus parade through the capital.”

Leicester 2

To most people in the world, this sentence will seem very odd. How does one present a trophy to a portrait and how does a portrait provide “a royal seal of approval”? Why would they present a trophy to a king of another land be he real or a portrait?

In royalist Thailand, however, most things associated with the monarchy are very odd. It has become normalized for sports champions to “present” their medals or trophies to the king as a sign of loyalty. Not doing so becomes disloyalty. At the same time, the businessmen and businesswomen who manage and profit from big sports (and gambling on sport) in Thailand get the reflected royal aura. That’s good for business.

So when Leicester City “present” the silverware to the king’s portrait, “[l]ocal television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai …, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.” In fact, they got on their knees, another “tradition” reintroduced in this reign.

Leicester 1

The team later went on an open-top bus parade through Bangkok. More on that below.

And, oh yes, Vichai’s King Power brand was everywhere. The parade “wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.” Continuing the royalist theme, “[d]uring their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players…”.

For the company King Power, the seal of approval is also coveted. According to Chulchit Bunyaketu, listed at the company website as a “Counselor,”The fact that the company was awarded the Royal Decree and is under the patronage of His Majesty the King clearly reflects on the integrity, capability, and honesty of our company and staff members.”

The Mail Online has more on the parade, noting Vichai’s commercialization and use of pliable monks: “Vichai is a regular devotee of Phra Prommangkalachan … and took the monk to Britain to bless the stadium and the team.” So the players trooped of to the royal Emerald Buddha temple.

It is The Sun that made most of the “thousands of Thais [who] were paid to pose as Leicester City fans for the club’s Premier League victory parade in Thailand…”.

Many of those dressed in club colors were there having “responded to a social media advert offering to pay people for a ‘Leicester parade job’. They were to get 500 baht…. They were asked to meet at the Bangkok HQ of the King Power company … [and] were also given free club T-shirts and urged to clap and chant during the celebration.” King Power employees were also mobilized.

All of this is obviously good for business, but thetre is also political speculation. The Nation explains some of this. It says that Leicester City’s “well-connected billionaire owner, Vichai … has … been linked to an alliance with political friends and the ruling generals that could result in a new political party…”.

It says that “his massive wealth and strong connections” mean that “Vichai is seen by some as having the potential to be the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ needed for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] to retain power via a new political party.”

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Vichai is said to have good relations with “many key figures’ in the military junta, naming “Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, one of the most influential figures in the ruling junta.”

The story goes on, saying Vichai is close to “Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Newin Chidchob, the former Cabinet minister and political broker who owns Thailand’s leading football club Buriram United.”

Anutin is rumored to have close links with the palace, and it was his father Chavarat who worked with Newin and the generals in 2008 to make Abhisit Vejjajiva prime minister and Bhum Jai Thai the military’s party as it went to the 2011 election. The military and the party failed spectacularly as Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party won in a landslide.Newin and King Power

This time around it is stated that an “alliance between Vichai, Newin and Anutin, plus support from Prawit -in the background, would be a coalition between a financial group and a power clique set for the new political landscape…”.

Newin and Vichai have a mutual interest in football and politics and blue pervades Buriram as much as it does Leicester, not to mention a group of blue-shirted thugs organized by Newin and Suthep Thaugsuban in 2009 to oppose red shirts.

Vast stocks of cash, royalism, political savvy and skills in the “dark arts” of vote-buying and great influence are just what a military party will need (if an election is ever permitted).





Footballing oligarchs I

19 05 2016

Readers interested in football and politics will find a story by Asia Sentinel by culture guru Toby Miller of some interest.

As we at PPT know, politics and football is an interesting mix. We may recall Thaksin Shinawatra paving the way for other rich Thais to think about the English Premier League with first talk of buying Liverpool for Thailand and then buying – and selling – Manchester City.

Thaksin and Manchester City

Readers might recall that in 2010, PPT posted on on the King Power takeover of Leicester City Football Club. The rest, as they say, is history. Back then we pointed out that the Leicester takeover was by one of Thailand’s wealthiest tycoons (worth $2.5 billion in 2015, but that will rocket) with considerable political connections, Vichai Raksriaksorn (he now sports a royally-bestowed moniker, Srivaddhanaprabha). At the time, others asked about this Thai billionaire penchant for English football. We also wrote quite a bit on Vichai’s links with Newin Chidchob and that’s worth re-reading.

For those who can, we urged a visit to Asia Sentinel. However, because it is often blocked by the royalist military, here’s the Miller story, in its entirety:

Duty free monopoly and royal connections make King Power  owner a major player

The discourse of “The Little Club That Could” – Leicester City, which went from near relegation to the top of world football – is beguiling. When an emotional fan broke down on the BBC last year after a Leicester City Foxes victory, it became a news story. The manager recently cried on the field; and the ultimate among these male melodramas saw a BBC commentator ring his father on air to celebrate the Premiership triumph. They both wept.

The Telegraph attributes Leicester City’s success to the spiritual intervention of Thai Buddhist monks, who are flown in to provide the players with karmic guidance through head-massage blessings, prayers, and chants. King Power, the Thai owner of the club, is much-loved by Leicester fans and regarded by many as an example of what responsible foreign ownership in football can be.

But the owner, Vichai Raksriaksorn, and King Power have questions to answer about oligarchic tendencies and sharp business practices. In 2013, Vichai received royal assent to change his last name to Srivaddhanaprabha, which signifies “light of progressive glory.”

The dissident blog Political Prisoners in Thailand has this to say about King Power’s boss: “Vichai is credited with having “plagiarized” the (now disgraced) Lance Armstrong and his plastic bracelets in Thailand[,] … made them “Long live the king” bracelets and raised a fortune that he apparently pushed over to the palace. As we observed then, for the Chinese business class in the 1920s, getting a royal family name was a sign of inclusion and acceptance. Today, it must be a fitting reward for a very wealthy supporter of the wealthiest.”

King Power works with the controversial provincial strongman, machine politician, and fellow club owner Newin Chidchob, and thrives thanks to close ties to successive administrations and coup leaders. This is in keeping with Vichai’s status as someone who grew up with a cohort that gives and sustains favorable business conditions to those with the right political connections. It’s a well-established form of clientelism, and he plays it excellently.

Prior to winning the Premier League, Vichai’s singular sporting achievement was establishing the Thailand Polo Association. It connects him to global royalty, local military and police, and high society. The light of progressive glory and his relatives feature on the management committee, and have a British team linked to Leicester City.

In 2006, the body responsible for Thailand’s airports alleged that King Power had btained the retail concession and duty-free license for Suvarnabhumi Airport without an open bidding process. That governing board was soon replaced, and the scandal slipped into history, for all the world like Jamie Vardy’s anti-Asian casino rants or his red card against West Ham.  King Power is widely believed to be selling goods from the world’s priciest luxury brands outside airport duty-free shops to rich men and their wives and girlfriends, undercutting the brands in Bangkok’s boutiques and creating considerable bad blood for the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

As the  Bangkok Post wryly puts it, ‘King Power’s chief business acumen is in securing such monopolistic duty-free concessions in the first place and then to keep leveraging its myriad revenue streams. This is a murky area where business and politics intersect.’

No wonder the Financial Times says ‘Mr Vichai does not lack financial muscle and plays the same league as any football-club owning Russian oligarch or Gulf investment fund.’

So please, enough celebrating the happily lachrymose masculinity of the little club that could. Instead, let’s unleash some tears for those caught up in the exploitative nature of much Thai business life, or victims of the vicious “sport,” polo.

None of this diminishes the players’ achievement, the manager’s charm, or the fans’ pleasure. But the political-economic wonder that is the clue to the team’s popularity and romance should be investigated. The inequalities supped on by the likes of Leicester’s proprietors are no fairy tale come true, for all the winning of a Premiership.





Rich, rich, rich II

6 07 2013

PPT recently posted on the new Forbes list of the filthy rich. In a related story, Forbes discusses the rises and falls on this list of the fabulously wealthy. We only want to comment on two of these.

Global HouseAmong the new names on the list, the richest was Witoon Suriyawanakul, worth $700 million. Somewhat surprisingly, Witoon’s Siam Global House is based tiny Roi Et in the Northeast. Global House is a building supplies retailer, a bit like Lowes or Home Depot in the U.S. Witoon’s stores are concentrated in the Northeast, the country’s poorest region. Perhaps his rapid rise is something to do with the recent posts we have had on inequality and politically-generated growth in the Northeast (see here and here).  Forbes has a brief story about Witoon.

The second observation is about Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Who?

Readers may not recognise this name. However, they will recognise his business. Vichai’s near-monopoly, state-allocated, duty-free airport stores under the King Power name is well known. King Power has made him very, very rich. And his wealth has shot higher as tourists have streamed into Thailand. Apparently 52 million in Bangkok’s international airport alone in 2012! Clearly the near-monopoly position is a license to print money.King Power

The name King Power always seems incongruous for lese majeste bizarre Thailand.

Then Forbes tells us who Vichai was:

Previously listed under Raksriaksorn, Vichai switched his last name when the monarchy bestowed upon him the honorific Srivaddhanaprabha, which means “light of progressive glory.” An apt description given his past year….

The best available account of King Power and its economic and political power is by Chang Noi.

Readers might recall that PPT posted on this name change earlier this year. Back then we commented that royal recognition is a reward, and we wondered if this reward was political, for Vichai has been a political supporter of Newin Chidchob who was so critical to the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and in opposing red shirts while holding the royal banner high. We did also note that Vichai is credited with having “plagiarized” the (now disgraced) Lance Armstrong and his plastic bracelets in Thailand and made them “Long live the king” bracelets and raised a fortune that he apparently pushed over to the palace. As we observed then, for the Chinese business class in the 1920s, getting a royal family name was a sign of inclusion and acceptance. Today, it must be a fitting reward for a very wealthy supporter of the wealthiest.








%d bloggers like this: