By Bruce Kent
September 26, 2006
While Thailand’s new ruling military council struggles to put the international community at ease about its intentions, Many people in Bangkok are pushing for a freeze on ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s massive assets.
The Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy, as the generals call themselves, has quickly set up a new National Counter Corruption Committee and an offshoot special assets-investigation panel, which is to be applauded. Thaksin, and many members of his cabinet and business cronies, are suspected of making fortunes while he was in power.
Thaksin’s Shin Corp telecommunications empire is reliably calculated to have quadrupled its financial strength during his five years in power.
But for many observers in Bangkok, the CDRM’s moves to install the anti-graft network isn’t enough. They want the financial blood of Thaksin and his associates as quickly as possible. That means swiftly freezing their assets.
While the anti-corruption fighters are equipped with the power to freeze assets, they want to be seen to be carefully following the rule of law. They first have to have evidence of wrongdoing by the suspects, such as hiding assets, before any freeze.
The anti-corruption team and the CDRM—which has been the butt of mostly-ill informed criticism in the West since its military putsch—also don’t want to be seen to be persecuting Thaksin, whatever his sins.
An estimated US$ 1.3 billion of his $1.9 billion windfall from Shin Corp’s sale is reliably reported to be in three or four Bangkok banks.
That was when he claimed his “one son and two daughters,” all in their twenties, sold most of Shin tax free to the Singapore government’s investment arm, Temasek, run by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching. Themasek is worth more than $100 billion, but Ho cannot be feeling that good over the acquisition of Shin.
Estimates in the squeaky-clean city state put Temasek’s losses on the Shin deal to date at more than $1 billion. This was because of the market fall of most of Shin’s subsidiaries since Thaksin’s political woes following the group’s sale. And this certainly wasn’t helped when the prime minister lost power in the September 19 coup.
Thaksin’s wealth, of course, is much bigger than the $ 1.9 billion Shin deal. There are persistent stories in Bangkok of two special flights leaving Bangkok airport’s military airstrip, each loaded with some 50 Thaksin suitcases just before the coup. There were, of course, no customs question asked in Bangkok, and the planes are said to have headed for unknown destinations.
That is probably a more reliable way of getting assets out of a country than a telegraphic transfer.