Democrats: Thaksin can't deny lobbying

Democrats: Thaksin can't deny lobbying

A Democrat Party member has pointed to "clear evidence" that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has hired lobbyists, indicating he was behind international criticisms against the junta.

A war of words began this week after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for the first time named Thaksin and his lobbyists as the elements behind protests by the Resistant Citizen group.

Gen Prayut has said on more than one occasion that "some Thais" were trying get foreign states to boycott Thailand and cause unrest in the country.

Thaksin, through his legal counsellor Noppadon Pattama, and his sister, former premier Yingluck, promptly denied the allegation. A search of records on file in Washington appears to indicate that lobbying firms have done no work on Thaksin's behalf in the two years since the military coup that overthrew Yingluck's govermment.

The Democrats joined the fray on Saturday, with former MP Watchara Petchthong saying data on the Lobbying Disclosure website of the US House of Representatives' Office of the Clerk clearly indicated Thaksin had regularly hired foreign companies from 2006-15 to lobby US officials to react unfavourably to Thailand throughout the years.

"How could he deny it? Whom should the people believe — the US House of Representatives or Thaksin? In the past, Thaksin perjured when he testified in court in the assets concealment case and then fled abroad? How can we believe what he says?" Mr Watchara said.

However, a detailed review by the Bangkok Post of the various lobbying firms' disclosure forms sheds little light on what they actually did for Thaksin. He has engaged many firms over the years but their activities have been quite low-profile.

The one exception was a firm headed by Robert Amsterdam, which issued a number of strongly worded public denunciations of Thaksin's political opponents. Thaksin has not used that firm since 2012.

Considering that Thaksin is a billionaire investor with interests all over the world, including mining in African countries, some of his lobbying arrangements might not necessarily involve politics but could be linked to US regulatory and trade issues. 

Meanwhile, a source in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) told some Thai media on Saturday the evidence that Thaksin had hired lobbyists was in an interview with the owner of UK-based Bell Pottinger Pvt, published more than two years ago in The Guardian, who counted Thaksin as a client.

Bell Pottinger is a public relations company, and while it has acted for a number of controversial political figures all over the world, it is not clear whether it acts as a lobbyist as well.

The source also pointed to the same website cited by Mr Watchara. It shows that Thaksin hired a firm called BGR Government Affairs LLC last year and this year. The filings of the transactions are shown on the Lobbying Disclosure website.

"The NCPO wants to point out that Thaksin did hire lobbyists and that the NCPO did not lie to the pubic," said the source.

"What comes next will be a series where the usual characters will come onstage through partisan media. People don't need to believe us but they should observe, study and try to understand the whole picture."

According to the data on the Lobbying Disclosure website, Thaksin was listed as a client in 49 quarterly filings by lobbying firms between 2006 and the first quarter of this year. Most of them were for fees of less than $5,000. 

Since the third quarter of last year, Thaksin has had BGR Government Affairs on retainer but for each quarter the firm has checked the box "No Lobbying Activity" and the fee paid has been "less than $5,000" (175,400 baht). The small amount of compensation suggests it might be just a retainer fee.

The largest fee he has paid on record was $460,000 (16 million baht) twice in 2007 to Barbour Griffith & Rogers LLC, the predecessor of BGR. The specific lobbying issues were listed as "provide guidance and counsel with regard to Mr Thaksin's interests in Washington, DC, and abroad" and "US government policy as impacts the individual principal".

Of note, he paid $70,000 (2.4 million baht) to Barbour Griffith & Rogers in the second quarter of 2010, to "provide strategic counsel on US government policy and assist with advancing individual's desire to promote democracy in Southeast Asia".

Since the 2014 coup, there have been no records of substantial fees paid by him to lobbyists, according to the data.

However, there were records that indicated he might have used the service of lobbyists following the Sept 19, 2006 coup.

In the latter half of the year, he paid Baker Botts LLP less than $10,000 (350,000 baht) to “develop and implement a strategic approach to the various international legal and political issues that confront Dr Thaksin due to the Sept 19 coup. The firm will monitor the evolution of US policies towards the interim government in Thailand".

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