Daily Archives: August 18, 2008

Not Just Thaksin: Other Famous Thais Who Have Fled (Part 1)

(As you will read, Thaksin is certainly not the first former PM to flee the country. In fact, he is one of many well-known Thais who have done a runner) Above pic courtesy of www.2bangkok.com

Well, former prime minister Thaksin has finally left us and done a runner to London with his lovely wife. And as you will read, London has become the second home to many of the Thailand’s most famous over the years!

Unknown to most folk on the street, a plentitude of well-known Thais have fled their homeland for a variety of reasons, both positive and negative. Here, in this 2 part series, is a run-down on the most well-known cases.

Yantra (Phra Yantra)

Born in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat Province in 1951 as Winai Laongsuwan, he ordained in 1974 and became known as Phra Yantra Amaro Bhikkhu. What happened next during the next 2 decades is enough for a Hollywood remake. His immediate appeal to the Thai public, besides his handsome good looks, was his ability to meditate for days on end and teach the Dhamma with such flair and wisdom. During the 1980’s, he took the Dhamma abroad and taught all around the world; he was transformed into Thailnd’s most loved monk and became simply known as Phra Yantra.

Yantra, with tens of millions of baht worth of donations coming in, established what could be called the country’s most naturally beautiful temples, the massive Sunnataram Forest Monstery in Kanchanburi Province. Sunnataram turned into an oasis for foreigners wishing to practice the Dhamma and meditation.

In the early 1990’s however, the country was startled by reports that Yantra had been having sexual relations with several followers including foreign women. Charges of sexual abuse against Yantra also surfaced with news of Yantra’s rape of 6 under-age hill-tribe girls. Most of Kingdom refused to believe the charges; that was until, the Daily News Newspaper uncovered photographic evidence that Yantra had been a regular in discotheques in Australia (no robes on). Other evidence which sufficed, included copies of Yantra’s credit card receipts which showed that he had been using the services of brothels in New Zealand. In 1995, he was disgracefully de-robed.

Yantra, still claiming a biggish following, self-robed himself in green robes and continually taught the Dhamma to the infuriation of the masses. Criminal charges of ‘impersonating a monk’ were filed against Yantra and before he could be arrested, Yantra fled the country for The US, and it was there that he was successfully awarded asylum. The Thai government has been unable to have Yantra extradited to Thailand to face charges. Until this day, Yantra resides in California.

(Yantra: Undoubtedly Thailand’s most infamous and loathed former monk in modern Thai history!)

Field Marshall Plaek Phibulsongkram

Jom Phon Por as he was popularly called goes down as one of Thailand’s most influential leaders in history. Shortly after the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932, he dictated social and economic trends through nationalistic policy for two super powerful eras of dictatorship 1938-44 and 1948-57. The people were obliged to adhere to his slogan “Trust your leader and the country is saved!” With this in order, he issued 12 Rattha Niyom (cultural mandates) between 1939-42. Jom Phon Por’s mandates changed the name of Siam to Thailand and brought in the Western Calender (New Year used to begin on 1 April). He ordered Thais to salute the flag twice a day, learn the national anthem by heart and sing it at school, refrain from speaking any dialects (especially Chinese!) in public and to use only Standard Thai. It was asked that the people speak a politer form of Thai by using words such as Chan (I), Than (You) and Jah (show politeness). He was said to have ‘absolute power’.

FM Plaek Phibulsongkram certainly had his political enemies and miraculously survived at least 3 assassination attempts including the infamous Manhatten Coup Attempt when the Royal Thai Navy blew-up the ship he was on in the middle of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace. The ship had just that day been given to Thailand as a present from The US.

FM Plaek Pibulsongkram was finally deposed in 1957 by another powerful dictator Sarit Thanarat, and Phibulsongkram fled to Penang, Malaysia. Before his death in 1964, he entered the monkhood in Bodhgaya, India. His ashes were returned and laid to rest at a temple he had built for the 1932 victors – Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, in the Bang Khen district of Bangkok. In fact, Penang had been before that become the new home of another person who was forced to flee the then Siam, Prince Damrong Rajananuphap (The Father of Modern Education).

Yuvadhida Polpraserth

Yuvadhida, once a popular actress, is however, more well-known for being a former wife of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The Crown Prince began his relationship with Yuvadhida in the late 1970s even though he was still officially married to his first wife Princess Soamsavali (though they had already split up). It was only in 1993, that the Crown Prince was finally able to win the extremely lengthy divorce battle. Yuvadhida and the Crown Prince had 5 children all together, they are: His Special Highnesses Princes (HSH) Juthawachara, Vacharaeson, Chakriwat and Vacharawee and Princess Busya.

They were finally married in 1994 but the marriage took a swift down-turn when the Crown Prince claimed that Yuvadhida was having an affair with an elderly Royal Air-force Chief Marshall. The Air-marshall was stripped of his rank by the then Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa. Very soon thereafter, Yuvadhida (and the Air-marshall) fled to London with her 5 children. After the reported advice of a revered monk, the Crown Prince, believing it was vital to the future of the Chakri Dynasty, went to London and retrieved his daughter to that marriage, Princess Busya. Until this day, Busya, resides in Thailand. Yuvathida and her 4 sons later moved to The US. Until this day, HSH Juthawachara and his 3 younger brothers are, respectively, 3rd-6th in line to the throne.

Rakeesh Saxena
Even though, Rakeesh isn’t even a real Thai (he is Indian) he goes down as one of Thailand’s most wanted criminals in self-imposed exile. Ironically calling himself a self-confessed communist, Rakeesh transformed himself during the 1970s and 1980s into one of Asia’s most reputed dealers in foreign currencies (Forex). After the Thai’s government opened up dealing on foreign exchange in 1985, Rakeesh moved to Bangkok with his Thai wife and quickly became a financial star and a top columnist for the Bangkok Post Newspaper. In 1989, he was named as Vice-President of the now defunct Bangkok Bank of Commerce and had a multitude of close-buddies in the government. Many of whom it was reported, were only cuddling up to Rakeesh due to personal financial favours and business dealings abroad in shady countries known for their lack of financial law enforcement.

The collapse of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce in 1996 does down as one of the major factors which triggered the Asian Economic Collapse of 1997 and the severe devaluation of the Thai Baht. What happened next is history). Rakeesh in Europe at the time of the economic collapse, knew he was in trouble with the government and never did return to Thailand, he went instead to Canada. Rakeesh along with his financial buddies were charged with the embezzlement, in the early 1990s, of at least USD$2 billion.

In exile in Canada since 1997, Rakeesh has continually and successfully fought off extradition to Thailand to face charges of corruption and embezzlement. After the Thai military coup of 2006, the case of extradition was again put on hold. Rakeesh has always claimed that if he were deported back to Thailand he would be tortured in a Thai prison (same to what Yantra above claimed).

Puey Ungpakorn

Puey Ungpakorn is still known today as one of the most respected and influential Thai nationals of the 20th century. Born a Thai-Chinese, Puey as the nationalist he was, joined the anti-government Free Thai Movement during World War II. Unfortunately, he was caught by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war till the end of the war in 1945.

After receiving his Doctorate in Economics from London in 1949, Puey rose to fame in the world of finance and eventually became the Governor of the Bank of Thailand before being named the Dean of Economics at the prestigious Thammasart University. Due to his prominence in the fight for rural equalities and productivity in Thailand’s countryside, Puey was one of the people’s favourites for premiership after the bloody coup of 1973. And it was in 1973, that Puey changed from being loved by the country’s all-powerful into one of the most loathed. Puey had turned his back to the military and openly confessed that he wanted nothing to do whatsoever with helping to run the country.

After the atrocities of 1973, Puey was branded a communist.

The historic student uprising of 6 October 1976 where tens of students were murdered in the compounds of Thammasart University and Sanam Luang in broad daylight by those supposedly against communists, forced Puey to resign from Thammasart and flee.

On the way to the airport on the day after the uprising, Puey was almost lynched by an anti-communist pro-monarchy hate mob, and it was only after the King’s Privy Council intervened, that Puey was allowed to leave the country safely. Puey fled to London and lived there for the rest of his life.

In exile in London, Puey continually fought for human rights in Thailand and was regarded as one of the country’s leading intellectuals (still to this day, in fact). He has been succeeded by his 2 Eurasian sons Giles and John. Giles has continually attempted to determine the truth of the 1976 massacre and been a thorn in the side for Thailand’s all-powerful including the military. A professor at Chulalongkorn University, his hard-hitting politically charged book of 2006 ‘A Coup for the Rich’ was banned. He is currently fighting charges of lese-majeste. John Ungpakorn has been a respected Bangkok senator and presently revered as one of the country’s most well-known intellectuals. He also runs the popular controversially correct www.prachatai.com.