Personal Reflections On The Assets Seizure Case
( Last edit 2010-03-05 )
by Korn Chatikavanij is the Minister of Finance. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bangkok Post, opionion Published: 5/03/2010
It is now a week since the celebrated ruling on Thaksin Shinawatra's private assets was announced, and I have yet to air my opinion on the verdict.
Korn Chatikavanij: ‘‘I remember that all of Thaksin’s actions at that time indicated he was the real owner of the assets and had hidden all of his shareholdings all along.’’
This is partly because I felt that many people have already been talking about the issue, but it is also because this is an issue close to my heart as I have been personally involved for some time. I also wanted my own opinion and emotions to crystallise before I spoke out.
Today my thoughts on this issue are more settled.
I became involved with the assets concealment issue when Thaksin sold his shareholdings in Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings of Singapore in January 2006, a year after I became an opposition Member of Parliament. I remember that all of Thaksin's actions at that time indicated that he was the real owner of the assets and had hidden all of his shareholdings all along.
Thaksin flew to Singapore to negotiate the sale of Shin Corp shares while informing the public that he was on a leisure trip. He hurriedly amended the legislation on shareholding limits under the Telecom Act so that he could sell his shareholdings and he did everything he could in order to avoid paying tax.
At that time, I did two things.
First, I pointed out that there was evidence at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicating that Thaksin secretly owned his Shin Corp shares via an account at Singapore UBS Bank. Second, I filed a complaint with the Revenue Department that the transactions involving the transfer of shares to Thaksin's children carried a tax liability.
I recalled that it was difficult to receive cooperation from government agencies on this issue. Worse, there were attempts to look into my record in the securities industry to see if there was any information that could be used to discredit me.
Revenue Department officials also leaked my tax records, which are confidential, to Thai Rak Thai MPs. Fortunately, I'd never done anything to harm my reputation. Nonetheless, almost all of my relatives were threatened during that time.
The question I would like to raise is, if the coup did not happen in 2006 and the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) had not existed, would we see justice being served in this case?
When the ASC was set up, I brought all the evidence to them, helped them analyse the information, and explained to them on matters regarding securities and securities trading, which was quite complicated and difficult to understand.
I remember the day I walked into the ASC office - the office space being temporarily borrowed from the Office of the Auditor-General of Thailand. There were many Thaksin supporters (not yet wearing red shirts at that time) surrounding the office, shouting profanities directly at us. That day, Khun Kaewsan (Atibhodhi), an ASC official responsible for the assets concealment case, was on the receiving end of most of the abuse.
Today, the crux of this trial was to prove that Thaksin actually did conceal his assets, and to prove that this was a conflict of interest between his policy and his assets. The Supreme Court ruled with a unanimous verdict that Thaksin concealed his assets.
Thinking back to the year 2006, Thaksin, Potjaman, Panthongtae and Pinthongta all came out to blatantly lie again and again that they in fact did not conceal assets. However, in the end the evidence was simply too compelling.
Back to the question, though: if there had not been a coup, would justice have prevailed?
And why can't Thai society not achieve justice without having to rely on coup-makers initiating the process? Does this mean that sometimes "undemocratic" actors place more emphasis on truth and justice than democratic ones?
Maybe it is because the majority of Thais do not sufficiently care about truth and justice. As long as our businesses are doing well and there is food on the table, we Thais appear willing to live with corruption.
But is this mindset wrong? Truth and justice cannot fill empty stomachs. Perhaps, therefore, only the wealthy have the time and inclination to ponder on matters such as justice while the poor, who have to struggle to feed their families, do not have that luxury.
And when the majority is made up of poor people and the majority voice is what counts in a democracy, the resounding answer is seemingly "We don't care."
Having said that, we all know many businessmen and the well-to-do also "don't care". It's easy for anybody to say they want truth and justice, but just how many are prepared to sacrifice something to realise this?
If everyone acts according to their duty, justice will manifest itself. It will require no intervention - coup or otherwise. We wouldn't need to go searching for it.
This, I would say, is the most important message from this case.
In the end, over the past five days, I've had a growing sense that the court decision really was fair.
Had it been my decision, I would have seized the entire 76 billion baht. My rationale would have been simple: by only seizing the "gained" portion, this meant Thaksin had essentially broken even on his scheme, even though he cheated.
But the truth is that there will be more lawsuits to follow. The Exim Bank, for example, was instructed to make cheap loans available to the Government of Burma to procure goods from Thaksin's company.
I know many people's reaction will be: "Isn't this enough? Can we get to work on reconciliation now?"
But this is temperament talking, and reflects a lack of sense of duty.
As for me, I will continue to perform my role to the best of my ability in part because there needs to be a counter-force to Thaksin's destructive hypocrisy. To this date, Thaksin has not shown any remorse, nor a sense of responsibility for the crimes he has committed upon our country. Instead, he has chosen to play the role of the victim and has gone so far as to hold the country to ransom unless he gets his selfish ways.
I, for one, cannot and will not accept the terms of Thaksin's arrogant conditions - not because of any personal vendetta I hold against him, but because my present positions as Member of Parliament and Minister oblige me with certain duties I cannot renege upon.
More importantly, if there is any lesson I have learnt during the past four-five years' struggle with Thaksin's regime, it is that we do not have the privilege nor the luxury to pass this difficult responsibility on to others.
I have written a rather lengthy note, in part because this note is a personal reflection for my own personal mental review.
Lastly, when I glance back at what transpired five days ago, I can still feel an air of sadness lingering over the court's decision. This is by no means because I disagree with the verdict, because I want to make clear that I am duly respectful and accepting of the verdict - which will be considered a great precedent and a genuine classic for the country's judicial system.
Nevertheless, I can't help but feel a sense of heartache over the fact that we as a country may not be able to truly appreciate the profound lessons that can be derived from this episode.
At the end of the day, I am left asking whether how much we, as Thais, do value the notion of truth and justice? More importantly, the bigger question is whether we are willing to sacrifice our personal liberty in order to protect public rights?
I worry about how most of us would answer the above questions, but I remain resolved in my endeavour to labour for the betterment of our country.
The whole verdict of the Supreme Court in this case is being translated by Ronayos and is going to be posted when done. Below is an appreciation by Peter, a Thai expatriot and the President of Thais Association in Washington, USA
This above message by Korn, the Finance Minister, is too good not to pass it on to you. What Korn said is pretty much in line with the statements our beloved King has repeatedly given us all these years. HM has reminded Thai people to be good, honest and ethical, to do our duties properly and accordingly, to work hard and sacrifice for others and the country, to adopt and practice the principles of sufficiency and self-reliance, etc. Our beloved King has also emphasized the importance and preference to have the honest and diligent leaders (instead of the smart but dishonest or corrupted ones) to run our country and provinces to serve the people.
Unfortunately,It is sadden to see, learn and experience that most Thais nowadays have the "Don't Care" or "Don't give a damn" mentality.
Like PM Abhisit, Korn Chatikavanij has proven to be very smart, honest and ethical. With these attributes, in addition to his tall statute and good look as well as education, he is another bright star and future leader in the making for our country. He appears to be much more committed, ethical and responsible than members of his family past or present.
Korn is so right to point out that most Thai people nowadays have the "Don't Care" and/or "Don't give a damn" attitude unless they are directly affected. It's so disappointed to see that the society has become so selfish, so short-sighted and ignorant, and so careless about the national interest/peace/stability. It's so disappointed that despite saying how much they love our King Bhumipol, most Thai people have chosen to ignore HM's words of wisdom.
For the country to move forward and attain betterment in all front, drastic changes including attitude adjustment are needed. "Change" was so popular over a year ago among Thai people who love to ride on the wave created by the West. Just as quickly as it came from the US as advocated by Barack Obama, the word "Change" was quickly gone from Thai people's mind and intention. Most Thai people seem to adopt the attitude of letting a small handful other Thais to do the hard work and sacrifices for them while they are ready to jump into the bandwagon to reap the benefits. These smaller groups of people include PAD, judges in Thailand's Supreme Court and Constitution Court, PM Abhisit his few closed/trusted aides (Korn Chatikavanij and Kasit Pirom, to name a couple).
However, the latest decision of Thailand's Supreme Court to seize 4.6 billion Baht from the total 7.6 billion Baht of the convicted ex-PM, Thaksin Shinnawatra, along with a couple of landmark decisions by Thai Courts in the last two years have indicated that changes are coming. Justice has finally and properly arrived. The decisions and effects combining with what PM Abhsit has internationally and domestically done so far in his gov't have given me the good reasons to be optimistic and hopeful. As a fighter with the "Can Do" attitude, I share Korn's final words of ไม่ท้อครับI am not discouraged. Good working people/leaders and patriotic Thais like Korn, Abhsit, Sondhi Lim deserve our supports and cooperation appropriately and accordingly.
I strongly encourage Thai people to rise up and meet the challenges. Let us tackle whatever obstructions or barriers in front of us to do our best for the country and particularly for our beloved King; HM deserves to see in his life that the people in the land of smile he so loves and cares about are capable of doing all the good things he has preached and expected us to do for the sake of the country and all people! It is hard to believe there's not enough motivation for us individually to take constructive actions to fulfill HM's wish (ความสุข ความสวัสดีของข้าพเจ้า จะเกิดขึ้นได้ ก็ด้วยบ้านเมืองของเรามีความเจริญ มั่นคง เป็นปกติสุข The hapiness and blessing of me would take place only with our nation's prosperity, stability and peace). If there are not enough reasons or motivations perhaps these words of wisdom "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" from President JF Kenndy may help.
Let's do it together!