Bidding adieu to the Shinawatra dynasty

Bidding adieu to the Shinawatra dynasty

In this file photo from 2013, then commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, left, walks alongside prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Government House. Boonsong was sentenced to 42 years in prison on Friday for his handling of fake government-to-government rice deals. CHANAT KATANYU
In this file photo from 2013, then commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, left, walks alongside prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Government House. Boonsong was sentenced to 42 years in prison on Friday for his handling of fake government-to-government rice deals. CHANAT KATANYU

Allow me to leave former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for a moment. I will come to her later.

Suranand Vejjajiva, former secretary-general of the Prime Minister's Office during the Yingluck administration, on Saturday posted a statement on his Facebook page saying he preferred to write about his friend, former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, because there were many posts about Ms Yingluck already.

Summing up, Mr Suranand said he knew Boonsong when they both joined the now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai party, the predecessor of the Pheu Thai party, in 1999.

He said he felt Boonsong was a businessman who had good intentions to see the country prosper. They talked often, and held seminars and brain-storming sessions together. And they became buddies.

When Boonsong became secretary to then prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, Mr Suranand said he phoned him asking whether he was all right and the former replied: "Don't worry".

When Boonsong became commerce minister while Mr Suranand was appointed secretary-general to then prime minister Yingluck, Mr Suranand recalled he sometimes visited Boonsong at his office and found a bunch of files heaped on the table and expressed his concern because some of the files were risky.

"Who studies the files for you?" asked Mr Suranand. "I have a team," said Boonsong.

However, Mr Suranand saw "worry" in Boonsong's eyes when they were together chatting as friends on diplomatic trips abroad with Ms Yingluck.

After the 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order, Suranand said he had a chance to meet one-on-one with Boonsong over some wine and asked him "whats the story". Boonsong said "I cannot talk about it". Since then Mr Suranand hasn't mentioned it again.

Obviously, Boonsong, in his capacity as commerce minister, was serving someone he didn't want to mention in his handling of the fake government-to-government (G-to-G) rice deal between the Foreign Trade Department and Cosco, a Chinese state enterprise.

The rice sold to Cosco at dirt cheap prices was supposed to be shipped to China, but it was never exported. Instead it was resold for a profit locally by Siam Indica, the same company that won the bid for this scandalous rice deal.

But Boonsong chose to take the blame for and bear the burden of some of the commerce officials without spilling the beans about those they served. He appears ready to rot in prison and die with that "truth".

For that, I salute his unwavering loyalty despite the threat to himself.

He is a good soldier who is ready to sacrifice himself for his boss, just like the good soldier once defined by Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, a former coup leader, as a soldier who "does not 'kill' friends and does not accuse his own boss."

Any boss who has this kind of loyal staff should be proud of them and should take good care of them because they are hard to find.

I wonder whether Boonsong's boss will pay back in kind for his unwavering loyalty (some may call it blind loyalty) by taking good care of him and his family.

Among those found guilty of corruption by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions over fake G-to-G rice deals was Boonsong, who was sentenced to 42 years in prison.

On top of that he and those convicted were told to pay back the state about 16 billion baht in compensation for the damage their deals caused.

Boonsong, like most of the Pheu Thai big shots and supporters of Ms Yingluck who showed up in front of the court on Friday to give her moral support, was unaware that Ms Yingluck would get cold feet and not show up to hear the court's verdict against her.

Rumours went viral that she had already fled the country while unconfirmed reports from those close to the military and family said she took a private jet to Trat province where she travelled by land to Cambodia with the help of contacts of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin.

From Cambodia she flew to Singapore to join Thaksin, who was there to pick her up, and both flew in a private jet to Dubai, Thaksin's home for the past decade.

What is puzzling about this high drama is that none of the junta members from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who are in charge of security affairs, caught wind of Ms Yingluck's escape. I, for one, don't believe it.

Rumours have also arisen of a deal being struck between Thaksin and the junta.

But what matters more than the rumours is the credibility of the junta itself in how Ms Yingluck was able to escape without their knowledge. Forget about the arrest warrant issued by the court because she will never be arrested by the police anyway. Examples abound of fugitives who live a good life overseas.

Among them are Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, the Red Bull scion, former deputy interior minister Vatana Asavahame, and Phra Dhammajayo whose whereabouts are not known.

Several Pheu Thai MPs used to compare Ms Yingluck to Myanmar state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which I find laughable because I cannot find any similarities between them.

Myanmar's Lady is an iron-willed democratic champion who embraces ahimsa (peaceful resistance) in her defiance of the military junta. She is humble, knowledgeable and a leader who reaches out to the public for the benefit of the people of Myanmar.

Ms Yingluck, on the other hand, has a different lifestyle. She became party leader and Thailand's leader through the influence of her brother, Thaksin. She fought the court case with apparent bravery, and although she had the chance to escape before, she did not take it.

But when crunch time came, she took fright and made a quiet exit, leaving her supporters, friends and foes shocked.

There are people who believe that she will return to hear the verdict on Sept 27, hoping that some sort of deal may be struck on her sentence. But I don't believe she will ever return.

Like brother, like sister -- both Thaksin and Ms Yingluck may have to contend with living the rest of their lives abroad.

It is worse for Ms Yingluck, because there is no statute of limitations on her case, no matter how long she stays abroad out of the reach of Thai law.

Does this mean the end of the Shinawatra dynasty in Thai politics? It's for Thaksin to decide whether his and his sister's fates, both sacrificed for Thai politics, are enough.

For those in the junta who believe the they can stay on in power for many years to come -- albeit in a different uniform -- should think twice.

Sovereignty belongs to the people, not a small group that thinks it can stay in power forever by standing behind the barrel of a gun.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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