The Thai government agency that managed the vast wealth of the royal family for the past 80 years has formally handed control of its assets, estimated in excess of US$30 billion, to controversial King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (pictured), who assumed the throne in 2016.
The Crown Property Bureau said the assets it had been administering would be put in the same category as the divisive king’s personal assets and managed at his discretion.
Forbes’ 2012 ranking estimated the late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, as holding assets of more than US$30 billion, including the holdings of the Crown Property Bureau.
Vajiralongkorn, 65, whose personal assets have been estimated at up to US$60 billion, has consolidated control of the royal palace and exerted more power over state affairs.
Holdings in two major companies run by the bureau have previously been transferred to the new king’s personal control. He was already listed as the world’s wealthiest monarch.
The authorities said that while the Crown Property Bureau had been exempt from taxes and duties, the personal assets of the king would now “be subject to the same duties and taxation as would assets belonging to any other citizen”.
This is something the monarch requested, the shadowy royal authorities said.
The monarchy does not publicly declare its wealth and is shielded from scrutiny by the world’s strictest lese majeste law, which punishes any perceived royal insult with up to 15 years per offence. The consistent use of this law to jail citizens has enforced a rigid self-censorship on the Thai media and citizens, who are guarded on social media.
Observers said that one motivating factor behind the 2014 coup was the military’s desire to be in charge of the government during the royal transition, as the former king’s health failed.
Bhumibol’s financial managers have been replaced by the new king’s appointments.
Chirayu Israngkun na Ayuthaya, who had been director general of the Crown Property Bureau since 1987, was replaced in March by Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol, a close aide to Vajiralongkorn.
The Crown Property Bureau’s assets include large areas of Bangkok, the Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group.
Stock exchange data in March showed the king acquired a nearly US$150-million stake in Siam Cement Group and, last October, shares worth over US$500 million in Siam Commercial Bank were transferred to Vajiralongkorn.
And it does not look like Vajiralongkorn will face any democratic scrutiny soon.
Last week, the junta-appointed legislature voted to delay the implementation of an election law that will postpone the general election until next year. It is the fourth time the junta has broken its promise to return power to politicians.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun. Picture credit: Wikimedia