The purge of all relatives or associates of Thai Princess Sirasimi, the swiftly-departed consort of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is continuing, with an order from the prince’s office stating that anyone using the royally-granted family name Akharapongpreecha stop using it and go back to his or her family name.
Although the palace has decreed that she and her relatives lose their royal name, under Thailand’s customs she keeps the title of princess until a divorce takes place. It is uncertain when that will happen.*
Despite the attempts to characterize the affair as a dramatic cleanup of a deeply corrupt Central Investigation Bureau headed by the now-arrested and disgraced Pongpat Chayaphan, it appears directed at dispossessing the couple’s nine-year-old son, Dhipangkorn, who was diagnosed two years ago with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, officially putting him out of the succession process.
Thailand has been wracked behind the scenes for several years with uncertainty over the succession process. According to a new book on Thailand, A Kingdom in Crisis by former senior Reuters journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest serving monarch at age 86, suffered a stroke in July 2012 that ended his ability to play an active role in Thai political life.
A struggle has been taking place between factions backing either Vajiralongkorn or his sister, the beloved Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, over who would achieve royal primacy. Sirindhorn, however, has shown no interest in men, has vowed never to marry and apparently has never had any intention of producing an heir.
The 60-year-old prince, on the other hand, is said to be regarded with loathing by many within royal circles for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his apparent refusal to adhere to royal rules, according to official US cables leaked in 2011 by the Wikileaks organization, verbatim copies of which were carried in Asia Sentinel. The King, before he apparently became incapacitated, came down firmly on the part of Vajiralongkorn despite his behavior.
Thailand’s lèse-majesté rules, which have been tightened down in the past several years to forbid even the most innocuous criticisms of anyone connected to the royal family, have precluded all discussion of his demeanor. Nonetheless, much of conservative Thai society has been profoundly shocked by the prince’s behavior and that of Srirasmi.
A video apparently made by a servant several years ago made the rounds, showing a 2001 birthday party for Srirasmi at the Nonthaburi palace. The topless crown princess later crouched down like a dog in the video. Thus the reputation for probity that the royal family aspires to has repeatedly been put in tatters by the prince’s behavior.
“It is a part of a preparation for a smooth royal transition by eliminating the consort who could taint the process because of her undignified past,” said a Thai source. “The crown prince has a new wife, who has been promoted fast in the military and just gave birth to a baby boy. There seems to be a deal between the crown prince and the palace elites to eliminate Srirasmi, (also referred to as Srirasm), who has to this day been viewed with disgust because of her low-class background. Some elites even said that they would not prostrate in front of a bar girl.”
While supposedly the stripping of use of the royal name is aimed at a team of people connected to Pongpat, the former head of the Central Investigation Bureau, Thailand’s FBI, who allegedly was involved in loan sharking, citing the monarchy to obtain benefits and money from others and crimes, it is actually aimed at making sure that nobody connected to the consort has any royal powers
The 42-year-old consort married Vajiralongkorn in 2001 and is his third wife, or apparently was. The former investigative chief, Pongpat, is her uncle. Under a 1915 Thai law, any family with one or more members who have served the country or the palace can apply for a royally granted surname.
Given the tight strictures on the press, the Thai media have been undergoing paroxysms in attempting to tell the story. The Bangkok Post, for instance, while reporting the existence of the letter withdrawing permission to use the royal name, merely said no reason was given for the order. None of the papers have pointed out that Akharapongpreecha is Srirasmi’s family name.
But the timing is interesting. Prince Vajiralonkorn is known to have quite some time ago acquired a fourth wife, a former Thai Airlines flight attendant, now known as Suthida Vajiralongkorn and whose nickname is Nui. She lives in Munich with the prince and recently got her own pilot’s license. Although she is not of royal blood, she recently gave birth to a baby boy and presumptive new heir to the throne, after Vajiralongkorn, a playboy who has burnt the candle at both ends, passes from the scene.
Srirasmi’s disappearance is a carbon copy of the banishing of the prince’s second wife, Yuvadhida Polprasert, who was commissioned as a major in the Royal Thai Army at the prince’s behest and who participated in royal ceremonies. Once he had discovered Srirasmi, Yuhadhida was driven out of Thailand to the UK with their children, who were stripped of their passports and any royal perks although a daughter was later rehabilitated and now is a princess.
Three suspects bearing the now-commoner Akharaphongpricha surname are in police custody, according to a police spokesman. The three are among 17 people arrested so far in connection with Pongpat’s alleged corruption and bribery network . The two others were also arrested. According to a Thai business source, as many as 30 to 40 people, most of them policemen in effect appointed to the force at Vajiralongkorn’s behest, will be cashiered. As many as 50 law enforcement officials’ names are said to appear on a bribe payment record seized from a businessman connected with the oil-smuggling ring.
According to the Bangkok Post, the former CIB chief was taken to the Criminal Court on Saturday by police from an unknown location after officers had completed their interrogation. He was later accompanied by Corrections Department officials to the Special Remand Prison in Lak Si for detention. Pol Lt Gen Pongpat will be detained until Dec 5 under court approval.
Authorities have also seized assets worth more than US$300 million including cash, gold, land deeds, amulets, Budhist artworks and images from properties owned by the former CIB chief. A foreign businessman told Asia Sentinel that Princess Srirasmi owns or owned an antique shop in Bangkok and “hence the uncle’s large collection of antiques that were squeezed out of his victims, citing the need of the institution to have them.”
Police are said to be investigating close to 50 more law enforcement officials whose names appear on a bribe payment record seized from a house owned by a southern businessman suspected of operating a major oil-smuggling ring in the South.
*Story Dec. 4 amended to clarify Srirasm keeps the title of princess until the divorce,