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Top Thailand news stories of 2014

Bangkok: As this year draws to a close and 2015 beckons, the Bangkok Post looks back at the people behind some of the top stories of 2014 − those who actively sought out the spotlight and others who found fame or notoriety unexpectedly.

corruptionpoliticssex
By Bangkok Post

Tuesday 30 December 2014, 05:00PM


From the barracks to prime minister

Thai politics is known for its tendency to repeat itself, and this was the case again when the army chief decided he would take the job of prime minister after the May 22 coup.

Prayut Chan-o-cha

Coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has tried to make sure the path the country takes after the coup does not once again lead to violence.

After the putsch, Gen Prayut received overwhelming support from the public, who were tired of political conflicts and rallies that had brought certain areas of Bangkok to a standstill. 

However, not everyone welcomed Gen Prayut.

The red shirts and the Pheu Thai-led government were certainly not happy with the coup as they believed the army had collaborated with the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to seize power. 

The May 22 coup did not end the political conflicts, but it has put them on hold for the time being with the help of martial law and the power of the army.

Gen Prayut now faces the reality that he has to shoulder all the responsibilities of solving the country's problems.

He also faces increasing doubts from members of the public as to whether he is capable of running the country amid mounting calls for a return to democracy.

The political turmoil made the public believe that the new prime minister must be strong enough to maintain order and that the only person who had the power to do that was the coup leader. 

The public was also well aware that Gen Prayut had been heavily involved in politics before the coup through his role as army chief, and his reputation that he is easily angered was also well known.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which was installed after the coup, imposed martial law and deployed soldiers to deal with those who spoke out or acted against the coup or coup-makers.

Martial law is expected to be in place until the Prayut administration ends. 

The success of the coup and Gen Prayut's rise to role of prime minister was helped in part by the forces of the 2nd Infantry Division (King's Guard) based in the eastern province of Prachin Buri, widely known as the Burapha Payak group.

Gen Prayut, his deputy premier Prawit Wongsuwon and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda all came from the same Burapha Payak camp.

The trio moved up the ranks together in the Queen's Guard unit, or the 21st Infantry Regiment, in Chon Buri and then the Burapha Payak. 

It is believed that because Gen Prayut still enjoys the full backing of the army, it was easy for him to take on the role of prime minister.

After four months at the helm, Gen Prayut's honeymoon period appears to be coming to an end amid increasing criticism.

Many doubt that a general election will in fact be held in early 2016. 

Some believe the prime minister could stay in power for two or three more years since the constitution drafting and reforms are not easy to complete within the NCPO's roadmap timeframe.

Critics have also voiced concern as to whether this has been the NCPO's plan all along, allowing Gen Prayut to cling on to power and find ways to block the Pheu Thai Party as well as people connected to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power if the next election is held too soon. 

Wassana Nanuam

Suthep Thaugsuban

Fiery protest boss dons monk's robes

Despite currently living as a monk, Suthep Thaugsuban’s civic movement leadership role remains strong as his historic protests that led to the major political change of 2014 cannot be forgotten.

The ex-Democrat MP began encouraging people to join mass rallies against the Yingluck Shinawatra government late last year which continued for six months until Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the then army chief, stepped in by staging a coup to topple the government led by Ms Yingluck, who is the youngest sister of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Gen Prayut explained that he carried out the coup to stop a fraught situation escalating amid sometimes violent conflicts between rival groups.

In the months of protests before May, Phra Suthep and his powerful civic group, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), had been exerting great efforts towards ending the so-called "Thaksin regime" operating behind the Yingluck government.

Phra Suthep's routines easily made news headlines during the rallies. No matter what he did — leading PDRC supporters on marches through Bangkok streets, speaking on stages at night, sitting down in protest near the Government House or planning the PDRC’s next moves — all his actions caught the media's attention.

Even when he decided to enter the monkhood on July 15 at Wat Than Namlai, also known as Suan Mok Khapalaram, in Surat Thani’s Chaiya district, the media continued to report on him as many associates and supporters visited him there.

Phra Suthep Paphakaro, the monk’s designation, has not set a date for returning to the life of a layman. He said his time in the monkhood will at least equal the duration of the PDRC protests to mark its supporters’ sacrifices.

At the same time, according to observers, his low profile also allows him to quietly observe how Thailand is being shaped by the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, the Constitution Drafting Committee and the Prayut administration.

He is watching closely how Gen Prayut and his government run the country. Phra Suthep allegedly spoke with Gen Prayut about how to end the influence of Thaksin following the violent rallies of the pro-Thaksin red-shirt group in 2010, which took place during the Abhisit government's tenure, when Phra Suthep was deputy prime minister.

Their talks were revealed by Mr Suthep himself during a speech at a fundraising dinner at Bangkok's Pacific Club in June.

The PDRC could not complete its anti-Thaksin campaign, but Phra Suthep showed the movement's clout as it helped create the tense atmosphere the coup sought to calm and its calls for political reform have been answered in various forms by the military regime.

Some may have been surprised that Phra Suthep's public image — once tainted by the alleged irregularities in his involvement with the state Sor Por Kor land distribution policy — could change so much, attract high support and reach "superstar" status in just several months.

Even as a monk, Phra Suthep’s popularity remains high. He has received positive responses for encouraging people to make merit and spend more time studying Buddhism.

Some observers think Phra Suthep may not return as a politician, but that does not necessarily mean he will easily bow out of politics. After his PDRC experience, Phra Suthep may eventually adopt a role in helping to stabilise the political situation.

Nauvarat Suksamran

Ex-CIB chief’s downfall shocks

T’he whole country, not just the law enforcement community, was in shock when news of Pongpat Chayapan’s removal from the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) emerged.

With the qualifications and connections he had, observers were quite certain that Pol Lt Gen Pongpat, who served as CIB chief for four years and had two years left before mandatory retirement, would indeed retire as the CIB’s head or even as an assistant national police chief.

Pongpat Chayapan

It was in early November, just one month and 11 days into his fourth year at the CIB, when Pol Lt Gen Pongpat’s world came crashing down.

National police chief Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang signed an order transferring Pol Lt Gen Pongpat and his deputy, Pol Maj Gen Kowit Wongrungroj, to the Royal Thai Police Office’s operations centre.

A few days later two close aides, Crime Suppression Division (CSD) commander Chaithat Boomkham and CSD Sub-Division 1 superintendent Akkharawut Limrat, were moved to inactive posts. The death of Pol Lt Col Akkharawut soon after intensified speculation and conspiracy theories about Pol Lt Gen Pongpat’s downfall.

The public did not have to wait long before Pol Lt Gen Pongpat and his alleged accomplices — police officers and civilians — were promptly slapped with various charges. These included violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law; Section 148, which deals with misconduct committed by state officials; Section 149, dealing with state officials demanding benefits; and Section 157, dealing with malfeasance.

The Anti-Money Laundering Office subsequently seized assets, valued at over 1 billion baht, from his alleged criminal network.

Seized items included gold ornaments, paintings, artefacts, amulets, antiques, Thai porcelain, jewellery, wooden furniture, cars and cash.

Pol Lt Gen Pongpat faced a disciplinary investigation after the scandal broke. On Dec 22 a police committee found him guilty of violating disciplinary codes and recommended that he be dismissed from the police force.

The former CIB chief is also staring at the prospect of being stripped of his rank and royal decorations granted as part of his service to the police force. This move by the Royal Thai Police Office would be exceptionally fast as normally it would have to wait until the criminal cases are concluded in court.

ARCHITECT and HOTELEX

Pol Lt Gen Pongpat made a name for himself in January 2013 when he led armed CSD police in arresting Somchai “Kamnan Poh” Khunpleum on an expressway in Bangkok’s Lat Krabang district.

Somchai was one of the most powerful figures in Chon Buri and had been on the run since March 2012, when the Supreme Court sentenced him in absentia to 25 years in prison for hiring a gunman to murder Prayoon Sitthichoke, alias Kamnan Yoon, at a wedding in March 2003.

Pol Lt Gen Pongpat’s influence grew after he was made the CDC’s acting commander seven years ago.

In 2010, he was appointed commissioner of the CIB, with a mandate to oversee crime suppression across the country. He appeared happy at the CIB, refusing promotion to become an assistant national police chief despite his seniority.

His downfall is set to become one of the biggest in law enforcement history.

Manop Thip-osod

Surrogate baby maker revealed

The news stories about 24-year-old Japanese businessman, Mitsutoki Shigeta, who has been linked to 15 babies born to surrogate mothers in Thailand, turned the spotlight on to the problem of surrogacy in the country.

A raid mounted on Aug 5, 2014, at a condominium on Lat Phrao Soi 130 found nine babies aged between three months old and two years old and a seven-month pregnant woman in three rooms in the condo building.

Mitsutoki Shigeta

The raid was led by Pavena Hongsakula, chairwoman of the Pavena Foundation for Children and Women and a combined team of police and soldiers.

The raid was launched after police were alerted to a group of Thai women who had been paid by foreign couples to become surrogate mothers.

Police initially suspected the case was linked to human trafficking.

However, Ratpratan Tulathorn, a lawyer for Mr Shigeta, confirmed that the nine babies were born to Mr Shigeta and Thai surrogate mothers via assisted reproductive technology.

He insisted that Mr Shigeta, as the father, should be made the legal guardian of the babies.

Mr Ratpratan said Mr Shigeta wanted to father a number of children and raise them in Thailand. The businessman also insured the nine babies for millions of baht.

Mr Shigeta has a lot of business interests in Thailand, the lawyer said.

"Mr Shigeta is a rich businessman. He is able to look after the babies well. He wants the babies to inherit a fortune from him," Mr Ratpratan said. 

Mr Shigeta allegedly took at least three infants born in Thailand out of the country, according to police.

Three babies hold Thai passports and another one holds a Japanese passport, police said.

Mr Shigeta has visited Thailand 65 times since 2012.

The Shigeta surrogacy scandal also dragged at least two doctors into the picture.

Both doctors, who provided the surrogacy services to Mr Shigeta, were charged with providing illegal surrogacy services and operating a fertility clinic without permission, in violation of regulations from the Medical Council of Thailand and the Public Health Ministry.

A women who gives birth to a surrogate baby would receive on average 300,000 baht and an additional 100,000 baht for twins.

So far, no charges have been pressed against Mr Shigeta.

He fled the country, boarding a flight to Macau shortly after the raid at the condominium, and has not been seen since.

Onnucha Hutasingh

Divorce papers and domestics

Actress Janie Thienphosuwan often appeared in the entertainment news sections of local media outlets after marrying Chonsawat "Ae" Asavahame, chairman of the Samut Prakan provincial administration organisation, in August 2013.

However, she started making front-page headlines in the middle of this year after rumours began circulating that her marriage to the millionaire politician was on the rocks.

Chonsawat ‘Ae’ Asavahame and Janie Thienphosuwan

The rumours emerged after photos of Mr Chonsawat with a "pretty" called Pui Noon were widely shared on the internet, together with reports suggesting the young girl was the main cause of the couple’s marriage problems.

Pui Noon later came out to the media and denied the reports.

The American-born Thai actress and model also dropped hints that her marriage to Mr Chonsawat was over, cancelling her social media account and starting a new one in which she posted a song, Begin Again.

She told fans that she wanted to talk to them about many things, but felt uncomfortable and was unable to.

"This is a year of change and I want to thank all my fans for their undying support and understanding.

"I believe that no matter what kind of love it is, it’s a really beautiful thing," Janie told reporters at the time, as she continually wiped tears from her cheeks.

The fragile relationship between Janie and her husband became the subject of gossip when pictures of a brutally beaten woman resembling the actress were spread online.

The woman had a bruised left eye and a large bruise on her upper right arm and back.

Local newspapers and other media outlets ran stories claiming that the marriage was about to end in acrimony.

Neither Janie or Mr Chonsawat commented on the domestic abuse claims.

But a close friend of Janie, actress Paula Taylor, confirmed the beaten woman was Janie.

Janie was apparently due to hold a press conference about her marriage on July 31, before leaving the country on a trip to the United States.

But on July 29, photos of Janie holding a divorce certificate went viral, ending speculation about her relationship with Mr Chonsawat. She left for the US two days later.

The sorry tale drew a lot of sympathy for the actress, despite her being heavily criticised when she married the politician.

She and Mr Chonsawat were married on Aug 8, 2013. Janie was castigated for causing the separation of Mr Chonsawat and his then wife, the renowned singer Nantida Kaewbuasai, 53.

Mr Chonsawat said at the time that he had been dating Janie for five only months and that she was "cute" and the only person he could happily sleep with every night.

A "Hate Janie" Facebook page was set up soon after that.

Soonruth Bunyamanee

 

 

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