Asia Pacific

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn named owner of Chakri dynasty's billions

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg, AP

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been granted full ownership of the palace’s billions of dollars worth of assets under a law passed last year, according to a rare “explanatory note” published by the financial arm of the powerful but secretive monarchy.

Vajiralongkorn inherited one of the world’s great fortunes when he ascended the Thai throne following the death of his father, who ruled for seven decades, in October 2016.

Analysts say the Chakris are one of the world’s richest royal dynasties, with estimates varying between $30 billion and $60 billion, although the monarchy does not publicly declare its wealth and is shielded from scrutiny by a draconian lese majeste law.

Most of the money is controlled by the opaque Crown Property Bureau (CPB) in a vast portfolio that includes massive property ownership and investments in major companies.

But last July, the Thai junta amended a royal property law for the first time in 69 years to give Vajiralongkorn full control over the CPB.

It is one of several steps taken by Vajiralongkorn to increase his personal control over the palace bureaucracy and its wealth since taking the throne.

His father, King Bhumibol, who reigned for seven decades, had professional managers — who were also trusted insiders — administer the palace’s business interests. The new king has sought to put his stamp on the monarchy, replacing palace officials with his own appointments.

Chirayu Israngkun Na Ayuthaya, who had been director-general of the CPB since 1987, was replaced in March by Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol, a close aide to Vajiralongkorn.

The CPB has major investments in some of Thailand’s largest companies.

Its most notable assets are real estate in Bangkok, the Siam Commercial Bank and the Siam Cement Group, a major building materials conglomerate.

Siam Commercial Bank, established over a century ago by royal charter, is Thailand’s oldest homegrown lender and the nation’s second-largest by assets. Siam Cement was set up in 1913 following a royal decree to produce more of the building material. It is the sixth-biggest firm in Thailand by market capitalization. The king’s stakes in them are worth an estimated $7 billion.

The amendment means “all ‘crown property assets’ are to be transferred and revert to the ownership of his majesty, so that they may be administered and managed at his majesty’s discretion,” according to the statement on the CPB’s website.

The registration of the king’s name as a shareholder in Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement shows that the monarch intends to “contribute to the administration of the enterprises to ensure that they will continue to thrive and prosper for the future benefits of Thailand,” according to the statement.

The document was not dated and the CPB, which rarely grants interviews, could not be reached for further comment.

The statement clarified that all of the CPB’s shareholdings will also “be held in the name of his majesty.”

The statement also said that previously tax exempt CPB assets will now be liable to taxation “in line with his majesty’s wishes.”

Public discussion of the monarchy’s actions remains taboo due to Thailand’s lese majeste law, which punishes any perceived criticism with up to 15 years per offense.

All media based in Thailand must self-censor when reporting on the monarchy to avoid violating the lese majeste law.