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Turbulent Thailand

Germany plans no moves against Thai king, document shows

Berlin gives monarch a pass on conducting Thai state affairs from Germany

 King Maha Vajiralongkorn moves among royalists during a candlelit vigil outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Dec. 5 to mark the birthday of his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.     © Reuters

HAMBURG, Germany -- The German government has no plans to take action against the Thai king for his preference of spending most of his time in the country's southwest state of Bavaria, a document seen by Nikkei Asia indicates.

The document, from Germany's foreign ministry, was a written response on Tuesday to Wolfgang Schaeuble, president of the Bundestag, the German federal parliament, over questions raised regarding King Maha Vajiralongkorn's long stays in the country, which became a focal point of protests roiling Thailand late last year.

King Vajiralongkorn has been back in Thailand since October, and the palace has made no announcements relating to possible future travel plans. Prior to his return, the king was almost permanently resident in Bavaria.

On Oct. 26, thousands of young protesters descended on the German Embassy in Bangkok, demanding an investigation into the king's activities in Germany, and whether they violated German law. The demonstrators also wanted to know if their monarch is liable for German inheritance tax following the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October 2016.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had earlier said authorities will "permanently review the goings-on and act immediately if things are found that we perceive to breach the law."

Sevim Dagdelen, one of King Vajiralongkorn's strongest critics in the Bundestag, and the Left Party's representative on its foreign affairs committee, asked parliamentary researchers to look into the legal implications of an unprecedented situation involving a foreign head of state. That study was published on Nov. 18, but only now has the foreign ministry issued an official response rebutting its finding that the German government could act against the king if it wished.

"The federal government has conveyed its expectations to the Thai side that during these stays there will be no decision-making from German soil that runs counter to German law, international law or internationally-guaranteed human rights," the foreign ministry said. "The federal government does not see any concrete indicators that the Thai king during his stay in Germany has conducted state affairs of this kind."

The ministry said it has no information about the possible conduct of Thai state affairs from Germany, or about the fates of a number of deceased dissidents and confidants. "The federal government does not have any information beyond what has been reported in the media," it said.

A key issue has been the nature of the king's visa, and the conditions under which he was permitted to reside in Germany. The foreign ministry stated that whereas King Vajiralongkorn did need a visa to visit when he was still crown prince, this ceased to be the case when he became head of state. Reports after the Bundestag research study said that as king he was residing in Germany on a private visa.

Bavaria's Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen has been home to King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his entourage a number of times.    © AP

The foreign ministry's belated clarification refutes earlier reports that Germany could influence the duration of King Vajiralongkorn's stays or pressure him to appoint a regent in Thailand while he was abroad. The speculation about appointing a regent for future visas to be issued now appears to be groundless. In early 2017, before signing the new constitution that had already been approved by national referendum in August 2016, the king had a compliant and unelected national legislative assembly adjust the old requirements for a regent to be appointed when the monarch was abroad or otherwise unavailable.

The foreign ministry declined to respond to a question based on a report in October in a Swiss daily, the Neue Zuericher Zeitung, that the king had taken direct command of two key regiments in Bangkok -- a development widely reported in other media. "Any disclosure of detailed information could be detrimental to bilateral relations and the foreign policy interests of the Federal Republic of Germany," the ministry said.

The ministry finally responded to student protest demands from October for an investigation into the king's tax status, and checks into apparent breaches of COVID-19 regulations while has resided in a Bavarian luxury hotel with an alleged harem during Germany's first lockdown in early 2020. It essentially ducked the questions by pointing out that inheritance and gift taxes, as well as enforcement of COVID-19 regulations, fall under the jurisdiction of Germany's federal states, not the central government in Berlin.

"Foreign minister Heiko Maas must declare the bizarre Thai king persona non grata if he wants to prevent the king carrying on with his reign of terror from German soil, whether as a private man or a diplomat," Dagdelen told Nikkei.

Wolfram Schaffar, an expert on Thailand at the University of Tuebingen, also expressed disappointment with the foreign ministry. He said nobody doubts that Thailand's general election in 2019 was flawed, and that the constitution -- drafted on orders from the military following a coup in 2014 -- is undemocratic.

"Although experts and analysts are united in their opinions, the German government continues to pursue its policy of making Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader turned prime minister, appear a legitimate head of government and international partner," Schaffar said.

Felix Heiduk, a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, views the ministry's letter as a simple reflection of the German government's perspective: As long as there is no proof of wrongdoing, any concrete moves against the king would be very harmful to the German national interest.

"Meanwhile, the worsening COVID-19 situation in Germany has pushed the topic far down the agenda," Heiduk said. "That would only change if the situation in Thailand were to escalate and the king was to play a key role in the escalation."

Government spokespeople in Bangkok had not responded to Nikkei by the time this article was posted.

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