Thailand’s Crown Prince Starts Another Purge

As Thailand's royal interregnum approaches, the country’s ruling class has been seized by what amounts almost to a reign of terror, with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn apparently clearing out his enemies in a fashion that goes back to the installation of a long line of Rama kings.

The tension is so serious in Bangkok that many people are frightened to speak on the telephone or identify themselves in any way that could subject them to the purge. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former head of the military who named himself premier after the May 2014 coup that ended parliamentary democracy, appears to have accepted Vajiralongkorn as the next king and is seeking to manage the situation the best way he can.

Still unpopular

The 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, known as Rama IX and the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, has been fading for half a decade, spending months at a time in the hospital as the succession drama plays out behind the scenes, with what is said to be vicious infighting between the backers of the 63-year-old crown prince and his sister, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn although the Thai succession does not allow for a female to become the monarch.

But Vajiralongkorn is so thoroughly detested in royal circles that efforts have been vainly made to sideline him for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his refusal to adhere to royal rules. But a source said, “There is no longer any doubt that the prince will become the king.”

'Bike for Dad'

A four-times-married wastrel who most recently pitched out his long-time consort for a Thai Airways flight attendant, the prince spends most of his time in Germany although he has made recent periodic trips back to Thailand to seek to rehabilitate his image, most principally through a series of bicycle rides in honor of his ailing parents. However, a source in Bangkok said, the prince has become enraged over allegations that people in his entourage have apparently been profiting from the sale of “Bike for Mom” and “Bike for Dad” souvenir and promotional items.

The country’s draconian lese majeste law has been used against several alleged offenders including Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, better known as Mor Yong, the prince’s soothsayer, allegedly because he went to spirits tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, Thailand’s second-richest man, to ask for funds for the Bike for Dad event. Charoen is said to have complained to Princess Sirindhorn, who told her brother in Germany. That has blown up into a major incident with the arrest of the fortune teller and others. Dozens of army and police officials are believed to be under fire.

“The Crown Prince is said to be trying to whitewash his image ahead of the succession,” a well-placed source told Asia Sentinel, an assessment shared with several other sources. “He is also said to be outraged that most of the people who have helped run his networks over recent decades have been skimming money from them too. I have no idea why the prince would be so angry about this, because it’s standard for everybody to take their cut. But anyway, the prince is sending a message to everybody — don’t fuck with me ahead of the succession.”

Last November, the prince suddenly ordered a purge of all relatives or associates of former Princess Srirasmi, the cocktail hostess he had taken as his wife in 2001. She was banished off into the country, Along with her went Pongpat Chayaphan, her uncle and the head of the Central Investigation Unit, and dozens of police. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed along with her three brothers, who were also charged with defaming the monarchy.

Police under fire

In the latest purge, two top police officials have died mysteriously and a third has disappeared. Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, the prince’s main bodyguard, died in mid-October. Local media have been so terrified by the situation that they have hesitated to name Phisitsak in print. His family was told he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt.

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Phisitsak Seniwong

Police Major Prakrom Warunprapa, a computer crime officer, also allegedly committed suicide while in custody. Sources in Bangkok say both were beaten and tortured. Instead of releasing the bodies to their families, as is the case for most Buddhist deaths to give time for making merit and preparing the bodies for the afterlife, the two were rushed to crematoriums and immediately burned. The gossip in Bangkok is that officials wanted to hide the evidence of torture.

The former National Police Spokesman, general Prawut Thavornsiri, is said to have gone to Germany to intercede with the prince. He subsequently disappeared and resigned from the force in a letter sent from Europe. He has since been replaced as spokesman.

High-profile cases

In contrast to most of the dozens of lese majeste cases that have been filed against a wide cross-section of Thais ranging from ordinary citizens to political activists, which have got little mention in the press, Thai authorities have publicized these cases, with photos of Mor Yong with his head shaved. Apparently those implicated in the case have had their heads shaved as well, a traditional disgrace ordered by past Thai monarchs.

“What is interesting [and worrying] is that it’s not just the major players who are being caught up in the purge, even peripheral figures, such as former police spokesman Prawut, are being targeted,” a source said. “The prince is being egged on by his latest wife, who is encouraging this behavior. Presumably, this was a way of saving face and pretending he was not involved in the corruption. In fact, he was fully involved in it, just as he was with Srirasmi's family's shenanigans.”

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