Thaksin’s Big Ones

I refer to the planned big rally coinciding with the 76 billion baht court verdict – people have always assumed that recovering this money was Thaksin’s main motivation in his struggle with Thai state. A few months ago it probably downed on him that the case is as good as lost.

He tried royal pardon, but that didn’t go anywhere either, and that’s really interesting – if he really wanted a pardon, he could have come back, checked into the jail, and submitted the petition himself. He’d probably be released by now, and asset concealment case would probably be stalled for good. It would have been a sacrifice on his part, but if the money is the main motivation, it would probably have been worth it.

On the other hand, perhaps he thought that Royal pardon wouldn’t have granted him immunity from those who want his blood and it wouldn’t have stopped 76 bil case. Or, perhaps, he didn’t have enough wits to go through this plan – it needed to be played just right, without overplaying his “remorse” and displaying utmost sincerity at all times. Either way, it’s in the past now.

Then there was “only a miracle can save me” quip, then build up to September coup anniversary, then to October rallies (traditional month of big political changes), and now it’s a new “all out war” to oust the government again. Not much of a plan, really, and there’s no way they get enough people on the ground to pull it of. Kwanchai, red leader from Udon, was talking about forty thousand coming to Bangkok from North and Northeast. He was probably being optimistic, as usual, and it still falls short of Jatuporn’s promised one million. Kwanchai was saying that people were waiting for money for travelling expenses and Thaksin’s personal go ahead.

The government will impose ISA, again, the parliament will be in recession, so no chance of legally changing the coalition make up (though they could theoretically force Abhisit to dissolve the House). All in all it will probably be soon forgotten, just like previous September and October rallies. At worst they could force a violent confrontation on the streets, and at most they could try to frame the military/police, but it’s still a long long way of toppling the government. They could try a coup (let’s see how many of them would drive their taxis into tanks if the coup goes their way).

That leaves the trial itself as the last hope, and that’s where it gets murky – no one knows all the details. All we know that it involves Ample Rich and Winmark stakes in Shin Corp or SC Assets in particular. Prosecution wants to prove that Thaksin and his wife still legally controlled those companies, while the defense argues that all the control was fully in the hands of their grown up children. There are transaction records presented by both sides to prove their point, and we know next to nothing about them.

While the case make look big and important, and the verdict will be played by both the winning and losing sides to their full advantage, some basic stuff needs to be kept in mind first – no one in his right mind believes that Thaksin’s children were really in control of Shin Corp all these years. It’s just stating the obvious, and the whole legal contention is about omissions and errors in the paperwork.

It would be a good time to look at the laws and regulations covering the ownership and nominees, they are obviously inadequate. Perhaps a totally different approach is needed, from a totally different angle, so that nominee problems doesn’t arise altogether. Fighting the paperwork seems like a huge waste of time and resources, not to mention all the damage done by PAD and Red rallies and paralyzed governments and parliament. So much struggle, and it all comes down to spotting errors in a few backdated documents. That’s what is supposed to decide everything.

Just look at what they are arguing about, as The Nation describes it:

“The facts show that if the Bt4.5 billion payment by Panthongtae to her mother for the TMB shares was real as claimed by Pojaman, the mother would have probably conned her son out of as much as Bt3 billion in just one go.

Why? The entire 450 million shares of TMB Bank as cited by Pojaman included 300 million shares that Pojaman got for free via the exercise of 300 million warrants, so the actual cost of all 450 million TMB shares was just Bt1.5 billion, not the hugely-inflated Bt4.5 billion.”

Is this what PAD were trying to prove by airport closures, and Reds by April riots? If this money is confiscated, would it even cover all the damage?

Back to the case – there are two parts in it, first is whether Thaksin was still controlling Shin shares while being the PM – he’ll get only political punishment for this, and second is whether prosecution can prove that he benefited from using his position – that would cost him a lot more, possibly a new jail time. The verdict could be split along this line, or it could be complicated and include splitting the assets instead – how much to confiscate, how much to return, or it could be simple but ugly, like Ratchada conviction.

Let’s wait and see, it won’t be long now, I think Surakiart Sathirathai, former Thaksin’s Foreign Minister and UN Secretary General contestant, is the last witness, and he is testifying today./I was wrong – it was an official from Exim Bank. Connection to Surakiart that I was expecting is that he was involved in Exim loan case, too – Added on Nov 26 – /

Back to Thaksin’s motivation – will he keep trying after losing his money? I think he would, I think he’s too attached to his followers to simply cease and desist, and it would a totally different game then, without deadlines and pressure – he can build a solid and well thought case against “bureaucratic polity”, for example. Something good might still come out of it.

Let’s wait and see.

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Thaksin’s Ratchada Deal

It’s a blog post, not a research paper, so I’ll skip on providing the links, the case has been in the media for years, finding some old articles I’ve seen somewhere ages ago is a bitch. I can try, if there’s sufficient interest.

Ratchada land was one of the assets taken over by FIDF from bankrupt financial companies in the 90s. At its peak it was valued at over 2 billion baht.

The location is perfect in many ways – a huge plot, not in the congested CBD or in those tiny Sukhumwit sois, in a respectable neighbourhood with Rama 9 and Ratchada glistening office blocks dominating the skyline. Certainly better than low-brow Charansanitwong somewhere across the river, a neighborhood not really befitting Thaksin’s new status as country’s best, brightest, and richest Prime Minister.

It’s also practically across the street from “Software park” building, not formally Shinawatras’, but they were supposed to be major tenants there. That building was also resurrected after 1997 death but I don’t remember which got their attention first.

It looked like a very nice setup.

FIDF tried to sell Ratchada plot several times, even before Thaksin became the Prime Minister, but there was no interest, no one was buying that kind of property then. It was put up again in 2003 and no one wanted to buy as the minimum price was considered too high.

That’s when Shinawatras stepped in.

In this second round there were only two other bidders, both had very good relationships with Thaksin, down payment was hiked from 10 million to 100 million baht, possibly to prevent some dark horses joining in at the last moment, and Pojamarn emerged as a clear winner.

The land was sold for about a third of it’s peak price and below the minimum set in the first 2003 auction round, but it was sold nevertheless, so for FIDF it was a good news.

The deal was concluded on the last day of the year, public holidays were reshuffled to make Dec 31 a working day. After New Year land valuations used to set minimal price for auctions went up by 20%. Later on there was a change in zoning permits for that area – now a high rise office block could be built on the land while during the auction it was valuated as land for residential buildings (this is the most difficult part to prove, I’ve read about it in the paper Nation ages ago, long before the coup).

Legally it was all fine and dandy, if there was collusion, it was all a matter of doing favors, no bribes needed to be paid, and people at the FIDF were just doing their jobs.

Yet it was a blatant conflict of interest – Prime Minister going into auction with the state agency? How can he possibly lose? It’s like one of those mock up contests from fairy tales, between young princes and their friends.

The law is pretty straightforward here – cannot be done, and there’s no burden of proof there was corruption, it just cannot be done.

Democrats made this sale a major point in 2004 censure debate but they didn’t have numbers to grill Thaksin, they could only charge Somkid, Finance Minister at the time. A senator has also attacked Thaksin on that, and Vishanu, govt legal wiz, explained that the deal could be illegal only if FIFD was under Prime Minister’s control.

Well, FIDF is a state institution, there’s no doubt about that. It was set by the state to help with solving banking and financial problems back in the 80s. Finance Ministry has a 70% stake in it and Bank of Thailand also has representation. Both Finance Minister and BOT governor are appointed by the Prime Minister.

Somkid had no troubles taking responsibility and answering questions about the land sale during the censure debate either.

During Thaksin’s trial the court ruled on that point overwhelmingly, too.

Some people point out at an earlier precedent when Supreme Court ruled that FIDF was independent. Well, Thai judges are not obliged to follow precedents, but, apart from this point, that old case was about a private company trying to get the government to repay FIDF loans. From that aspect it was also a clear cut case – FIDF was set up specifically so that the government doesn’t carry financial responsibility for its actions.

Throughout its history FIDF worked closely with BOT and Finance Ministry, the setup and distribution of powers allowing some room for negotiations – the govt wants to dump everything into FIDF, BOT wants to keep their debts under control, and FIDF needs to sell the distressed assets, so it’s a three way tussle. One thing is clear – FIDF is not some profit oriented private entity and politicians should be prohibited from bringing their personal business interests in dealing with it.

There are also some counter points involving the set up of the prosecuting body in this case and the court itself. Fair enough, but it’s really legal matters, and legally they have been addressed. When the case is lost, people start arguing procedures, then they argue the law itself. It’s just sour grapes and refusal to admit guilt.

One more thing about conflict on interest – no investigative or prosecuting body would take on the sitting Prime Minister, and no state agency would cooperate with that hypothetical investigation either. “Conflict of interest” needs to be nipped in the bud, just for its existence, without necessity of proving actual corruption.