At an outdoor cabinet function in Bangkok last month it was inconveniently sunny for deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Holding up his hand to shade his eyes he fatefully exposed his wrist, and the $90,000 Richard Mille watch that was gracing it, to public scrutiny.
Has Prawit Wongsuwan done wrong?
Once this bit of bling was spotted, the internet was scoured for other examples of expensive wrist wear. Patek Philippes, Rolexes and more Richard Milles were clocked from various photos. According to the Thai language CSI LA Facebook page, watches valued at over $1 million not declared on Prawit’s personal asset list have been found in photos so far. By law, political office-holders as well as high-ranking officials in Thailand must report their assets before assuming their posts.
Not long after Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Committee opened an investigation. As the president of the committee is a former aide of Prawit, Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, critics spotted a rat. A thorough investigation seemed unlikely when committee secretary general Worawit Sukboon was quoted as saying, “We will investigate this case. It won’t take a long time because it’s not complicated.”
Prawit: too bling to fail?
The controversy comes at an awkward time for the unelected military regime that has ruled Thailand since a 2014 coup. Public disquiet is growing, and a top official wearing bling worth many times his annual salary causes understandable concern. But still, Prawit is going nowhere very soon.
According to Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University in Phitsanulok who spoke to National Public Radio recently, the situation is complicated.
“Prawit has a lot of power and a lot of influence in the army and in the National Legislative Assembly and among many other civilian and military bureaucrats,” he explained. “So Prayuth can’t just say, ‘You’re out.’ ”
And, however unseemly the watch affair might seem, Prawit’s cabinet colleagues are unlikely to want to set an unhelpful precedent.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, another academic who teaches Political Science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University told NPR, “The difficulty for this government is that if Gen. Prawit goes, it could be a slippery slope. He could go, but he might pull down some people with him. A lot of the cabinet members, a lot of the generals have unanswerable, unaccountable wealth, luxury items, and you can see some of them on the assets sheets. But some might not be declared.”
It sounds like the Prawit scandal is set to rumble on for some time. Watch this space.