Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief II

11 07 2019

Not long after our post on mafia-like figure and new deputy minister from the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party, Thammanat Prompao, the Bangkok Post has published perhaps the best-ever self-incriminating interview in recent memory. It carries the seemingly ironic e-headline “I’m innocent.”

Apparently responding to the AFP story from 1998 that’s being widely circulated – and more – Capt Thammanat digs a very deep hole. Whether it is used to bury his political career (again) remains to be seen, with the junta-anointed lookalike government needing every soldier, anti-democrat and mafia figure it can lay its grimy hands on. And, the junta’s legal eagle Wissanu Krea-ngam – a member of the “new” cabinet that includes Thammanat and several other dodgy figures – has stated that “said Capt. Thammanat Prompao’s eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.”

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Thammanat has “dismissed reports about his past criminal record, claiming he was innocent and the opposition was trying to discredit him.” He does a pretty good job of discrediting himself.

As we posted, Thammanat is accused of having been “convicted and jailed in Australia in a case involving heroin…”. He is also “linked to a [rape and] murder case of an academic whose body was dumped in Si Sa Ket in 1998, but later acquitted. His involvement in the latter case led to the removal of his military rank but it was reinstated later.”

Thammanat spoke about his time in Australia, claiming that his jail sentence there was all “a misunderstanding about his case in Australia 30 years ago, when he was a second lieutenant.”

He denied being at all involved in the “import, produce or deal[ing] heroin.” He claims he was “on vacation in Sydney…”, and was “unfortunate to have been in the same place at the same time as some drug offenders.” According to Thammanat, Australian police were not so convinced and he was jailed, with “another Thai,” for “knowing about and failing to report knowledge of drug dealing to police…”. He claims this to be a “petty offence,” which is not entirely accurate. He also says he denied the charge, but he was convicted.

What is then even more odd in his “story” is that he claims that, having arrived in Australia “on vacation,” he then lived and worked in Sydney “for four years.” However, he was “deported to Thailand because of a policy by the then Sydney mayor, who didn’t welcome Asians who formed groups and had no permanent residence.” That he was deported suggests thta there is more to the story than he lets on. The claim that it was due to the policy of a “mayor” is ridiculous nonsense. In Australia mayors have no authority over immigration, which is a task for the Australian Federal government. Thammanat “insisted he was not deported to serve time for a drug sentence as claimed by some reports.”

We may assume that Thammanat is confused or is obfuscating.

But he also has the “get-out-of-jail-free card” that has long been available to rogues and other criminals: He puffed out his royalist chest and declared: “I’ve never violated constitutional laws and I was cleared by a royal pardon absolving guilt granted by His Majesty the King in 2017.”

Case closed, he hopes. Somehow we doubt it.

There’s a long, long list of mafia-like allegations that will haunt the “new” government for as long as Thammanat is with it:

… Thammanat also owned one of the five largest companies that received quotas to sell government lottery. He reportedly gave it up after a talk with army Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who chairs the Government Lottery Board.

So what happened there? Who benefited from this relinquishing of a valuable, mafia-like racket?

Just last year, “police also found him to be one of the recipients of the shares of DNA, a company involved in a 797-million-baht bitcoin fraud.” Where did that loot go? Who benefited? We can’t wait to see his assets declaration.

Update: Remarkably, the Bangkok Post now has two stories posted under virtually the same e-headline, “I’m innocent” and “I am innocent.” The former we used and quoted above. The latter is by reporters Wassana Nanuam and Aekarach Sattaburuth. The latter is gentle, even supine. It tells a story that seems meant to be a little more supportive to Thammanat, but adds more details that damn him and suggest he’s struggling to get his story straight.





Never trust an Army boss II

7 07 2019

Back in February we observed that no one should ever trust the commander of the Royal Thai Army. At that time, Gen Apirat “pledged … that the army will remain neutral in this election…”. That was a fabrication and a lie.

He’s at it again.

Army watcher and occasional propagator of its propaganda, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam conveys a message from Gen Apirat that is another lie. The basic point of the first report (of two that seem essentially the same), is that Gen Apirat “will wash his hands of politics after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] is dissolved once the new cabinet is sworn in.” He states: “From then on, I won’t make political comments nor will I get involved with politics in any way. I’ll perform my duty strictly as a professional soldier…”.

But, that is just silly and deceitful. For one thing, the junta – of which he is secretary-general – has constitutionally created a senate spot for the Army boss. That is, for Gen Apirat. In other words, he is a part of the political process as structured and rigged by his junta.

He’s also deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, which is scheduled to take over many of the junta’s roles when the junta dissolves. ISOC has been embedded in politics from the national to the local levels [clicking opens a PDF].

As an aside, but interestingly, he provided the clearest signal yet that the Army is to remain US-aligned. With the Army now more cashed-up than it has been in decades – thanks to the military junta doubling its budget – and with an authoritarian-friendly regime in the US, look for this relationship to strengthen further.

Perhaps the biggest issue in Thailand’s politics is the one seldom discussed in the media is the relationship between the Army and the monarch. This is one aspect of politics where the Army has played – and will continue to play – a major role. The junta used ISOC and the Army to squash the anti-monarchism that sent shivers through the palace and the royal-aligned ruling class. That fundamental aspect of politics is also the Army’s most fundamental task.

So never trust an Army boss and don’t believe Gen Apirat’s claims.





Thugs, crooks and mafia figures

25 06 2019

It was only about a week ago that PPT mentioned the blatant nepotism of Capt Thammanat Prompao, a Palang Pracharat MP for Phayao. He’s considered a crook controversial figure, so can’t be a minister. His response is “let a family member take a ministerial post.” So slippery, so easy, so corrupt.

In another one of those reports that gently strokes the powerful and threatening, but which has the odd piece of useful information, Wassana Nanuam interviews Capt Thammanat. He’s the kind of crook controversial figure who knows that, as a dark influence, political parties have to seek out his support. Pro-Thaksin parties did it, but he’s untrustworthy and disloyal, for sale to the highest bidder. Essentially, Thammanat used his loot and influence to “manage” the north for the junta’s “election.”

And that’s how he can hand out his ministerial seat. As Wassana has put it:

It is his skills of negotiation that the PPRP has harnessed to solve disagreements among its party MPs over their minister quota. The same type of disputes with PPRP’s allies have been also toned down with Capt Thammanat’s help.

“That’s my style,” he said. “I’m a more giver than receiver and always keep my word.”

Reportedly his contributions to the party earned him one ministerial seat but he decided to pass it on to his younger brother Akkara, a former deputy chairman of the Phayao provincial administrative organisation.

You get the picture. Ministerial seats were for sale, and Thammanat got his for his loot and influence. The latter is his capacity for threats that he uses for his boss, so long as he gets his snout in the trough:

Of this decision, Capt Thammanat would only say that he “thanked phu yai for giving us the opportunity,” and was “ready to do whatever my boss orders”.

What kind of crook controversial figure is he? One report says his current “influence” is due to him controlling a Palang Pracharath “clique” of more than 10 MPs and as an “aide of [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon…”.

Then there’s the “alleged Bt800-million bitcoin investment scam in which a Finnish bitcoin-owner was lured into transferring the cryptocurrency for bogus investment in Thai stocks and other assets.” Capt Thammanat was involved in that as the enforcer:

He [stock investor Prasit Srisuwan] asked Capt Thammanat Prompao (retired) to help settle the matter. Capt Thammanat convinced Mr Prinya [Jaravijit] to provide the ordered shares to Mr [Aarni Otava] Saarimaa, who had received 345 million shares in two transactions in November last year.

One report states that Thammanat “allegedly received shares from the fugitive suspect Parinya Jaravijit…”.

This is just one recent case. Thammanat is “often connected with late former army heavyweight Gen Trairong ‘Seh Ice’ Intararat…”, a notorious thug. Indeed, being a thug/dark influence/mafia figure doesn’t bother Thammanat at all:

“The word ‘mafia’ in my view is not as dark as many think,” Capt Thmmanat said.

“Mafia means someone who has connections with many people and who keeps his word.”

These are the characters of a person who can clear up conflicts and make reconciliations between rival parties, he says.

It seems the junta is only too happy to deal with the self-proclaimed mafia.





Military planning, the rigged election and the next coup

22 10 2018

According to Wassana Nanuam at the Bangkok Post, the military under new boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong has a plan for defeating Puea Thai in an “election.” If that doesn’t work, the Army will control the new government. And, if that fails, the Army will arrange yet another military coup.

That’s why he has refused “to rule out another coup…”.

Wassana reports that it “is widely speculated that a new administration led by Pheu Thai could face military retaliation if it attempts to remove generals appointed by the regime [the junta].” A source tells her: “Pheu Thai is likely to have a hard time running the country and may face another round of street protests that could enable the military to justify a coup…”.

How’s that for a plan! Even before the rigged election is held or a single vote counted, it is being made clear that a Puea Thai government is unacceptable and will be destabilized.

First, however, the the military junta and the Army “will opt for the ‘less extreme’ tactic of preventing Pheu Thai taking the reins in the first place…”. This involves “managing” coalition building that excludes Puea Thai.

The source adds that Gen Apirat’s coup stance is significant “because few are convinced the Palang Pracharath Party, known to be a vehicle to support Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as the premier if he wishes, can win the election outright.” Military might may well be required again.

The contingency plans are already in place.





Fearful, covering up or just thick?

30 08 2018

The military junta has emphasized Thailand’s “uniqueness.” Thailand is probably the world’s only military dictatorship, it “protects” the monarchy more intensely than almost any other constitutional monarchy, its lese majeste law carries higher sentences than anywhere else and more.

It is probably not unique that it has officials and appointed members of assemblies who say some of the dumbest things that could possibly be imagined. They do this with straight faces, without a smile and appear to believe the daft things that flow from their mouths, seemingly disconnected from anything resembling a brain.

Likewise, we don’t think it is unique when the main “anti-corruption” bodies prefer to obfuscate, lie and cover-up for their bosses/friends/dictators.

But combining those “anti-corruption” bodies with officials saying the dumbest things may be unique.

As a case in point is Surasak Keereevichiena, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission reportedly stated that “[i]t is difficult for the nation’s anti-graft agency to conclude whether there was any wrongdoing in the Bt1.13-billion purchase of fake ‘remote substance detectors’…”.

That’s bad enough, but what was the reason for this outrageous claim? Get this: Surasak “said it was likely that officials had decided to purchase the devices because they believed the devices would work.” Making this dopey statement dopier still, he babbled that “[s]ometimes, it is not about the value of devices. It’s more about belief, just like when you buy Buddha amulets…”.

Now what is Surasak prattling about? None other than the plastic handled scam wand, the GT200.

Wikipedia’s page says this:

The GT200 is a fraudulent “remote substance detector” that was claimed by its manufacturer, UK-based Global Technical Ltd, to be able to detect, from a distance, various substances including explosives and drugs. The GT200 was sold to a number of countries for a cost of up to £22,000 per unit, but the device has been described as little more than “divining rods” which lack any scientific explanation for why they should work. After the similar ADE 651 was exposed as a fraud, the UK Government banned the export of such devices to Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010 and warned foreign governments that the GT200 and ADE 651 are “wholly ineffective” at detecting bombs and explosives. The owner of Global Technical, Gary Bolton, was convicted on 26 July 2013 on two charges of fraud relating to the sale and manufacture of the GT200 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

For Thailand, where the prices paid reached the maximum, this story goes back beyond the early days of this blog. Our first post was in early January 2010, when General Pathomphong Kasornsuk reportedly wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to urge that a committee investigate the army’s procurement scheme for GT200 “bomb detectors.”

But the news reports of early 2010 point to an earlier purchase of the GT200, by the air force in 2004 or 2005.  Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) says future 2006 coup leader ACM Chalit Phukpasuk was commander at the time. 2006 junta boss Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), was impressed with the device and it was used at that time by a unit which provided security for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The Wikipedia page says this about Thailand:

The GT200 was used extensively in Thailand. Reportedly, some 818 GT200 units were procured by Thai public bodies since 2004. These include 535 bought by the Royal Thai Army for use combating the South Thailand insurgency and another 222 for use in other areas, 50 purchased by the Royal Thai Police for use in Police Region 4 (Khon Kaen), six bought by the Central Institute of Forensic Science, six by the Customs Department, four by the Royal Thai Air Force, and one by Chai Nat police. Other agencies such as the Border Patrol Police Bureau and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board use a similar device to detect drugs, the Alpha 6, procured from another company, Comstrac. According to the Bangkok Post, the Royal Thai Air Force first procured the GT200 to detect explosives and drugs at airports, followed by the army in 2006.[30] According to Lt Gen Daopong Rattansuwan, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army, each GT200 bought by the army cost 900,000 baht (£17,000/US$27,000), rising to 1.2 million baht (£22,000/US$36,000) if 21 “sensor cards” were included with it. In total, Thailand’s government and security forces have spent between 800–900 million baht (US$21 million) on the devices. Figures updated in 2016 claim that the Thai government spent 1.4 billion baht on the purchase of 1,358 devices between 2006 and 2010. Even after the efficacy of the device was debunked by Thai and foreign scientists, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha, then army chief, declared, “I affirm that the device is still effective.” The Bangkok Post commented that, “The GT200 case was a unique scandal because the devices…seemed to fool only the people closely connected to their sale and purchase.”

Tests and experiments conducted in Thailand and in the UK showed that the GT200 and similar wands were an undisguised scam.

Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) pointed out that it was Army commander Anupong Paojinda “who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.” As we know, he is now Minister of Interior and part of the junta.

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

Despite the legal cases elsewhere and the tests, Anupong, Prayuth and others refused to acknowledge that the GT200 didn’t work. They mumbled about soldiers finding them useful. Questions were raised about the commissions paid.

In mid-2012, reporters asked “army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha if the GT200 had actually been taken out of service.” The response was an emphatic no. Then the now premier and more than fours years as The Dictator, stated: “I affirm that the device is still effective. Other armed forces are also using it…”.

Indeed they were, including in the south, where people were arrested based on “tests” using the GT200. Prayuth “insisted the GT200 has proven to be effective in the army’s operations in the past. But he would respect any scientific test if it proves otherwise.” Of course, those tests had already been conducted. The (future) Dictator believed the GT200 worked. Full stop.

He was supported by then Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat under the Puea Thai government. Dense and commenting on a report that the Department of Special Investigation was investigating whether the devices were purchased at exorbitant prices, he “said: “The GT200 detectors can do the job and they have already been tested…”. He also babbled that the DSI “should also ask those who are using the detectors because if they don’t work I want to know who would buy them.”

By April 2013, the Bangkok Post reported that investigations in Thailand have shown that “13 agencies to buy 1,358 GT200 and Alpha 6 detectors worth 1.137 billion baht.” It added that fraud charges are being considered by the NACC.

More than 5 years later, Surasak has come up with his ludicrous claims that mimic his bosses in the junta. He added that the junta-shy NACC would “come up with a clear-cut conclusion on the matter ‘at an appropriate time’.”

He said: “if soldiers in the field … have faith in the bomb-detectors and believe they work, then they would consider the equipment worth the money spent. But he admitted that there are people who question their worthiness considering the prices paid.”

We are tempted to conclude that Surasak is dumber than a sack of hammers, but that would do damage to hammers. We should consider that he may be fearful of The Dictator and his team of military thugs. He might love them and feels the need to cover up to protect them. Or some combination of these.





Pandering to the murderous military II

28 05 2018

This is the second of our two posts on how the military dictatorship and the military itself enjoy impunity and why the junta maintains the military boot on Thailand’s collective throat.

Bangkok Post military groupie-cum-reporter Wassana Nanuam writes about Third Region Army commander Lt Gen Vijak Siribansop. It begins with a discussion of this loudmouth general’s querulous and insensitive comments about the extrajudicial murder of young Lahu rights activist Chaiyaphum Pasae.

Yet the way this is handled is, frankly, disgusting.

The idiot general reckons he “had no idea he would still be answering questions … a full year after the incident occurred on March 17 last year.” Saying that he would have killed the kid with a weapon set to automatic fire says much about this thug.

But never mind, Lt Gen Vijak is a big deal in drug trafficking in the north. Wassana says he “leads active suppression squads against the heavy proliferation of drug smuggling…”, implying that killing alleged drug smugglers is to be applauded.

Wassana repeats all of the military’s unverified, unlikely and unbelievable claims about the murder of Chaiyaphum. She says nary a word about the fact that the military has suppressed evidence, harassed witnesses and threatened witnesses. She can use quotation marks and say “alleged,” but she’s effectively speaking for them when she’s silent on facts about the case.

This likely encourages the military to kill more people.

When she concludes with anecdotes about the Vijak opening restaurants (is that legal when he’s a serving officer?) and dishing up food for friends, she’s bleaching his and the military’s dirty laundry. The journalistic ethics of such stuff must surely be questioned.





2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.