THE scandal surrounding Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxurious watch collection has intensified significantly over the past week, with civil rights groups, politicians, netizens and a former prime minister calling for the ‘Rolex General’ to address the public’s concerns or resign.
The controversy began in November last year, when the Deputy PM accidently flashed a Richard Mille timepiece and an extravagant diamond ring to the media during a photo session in front of Thailand’s parliamentary buildings.
Despite Gen Prawit’s best attempts to ignore questions and avoid commenting on the matter, the media and the general public have continued to question how a military man could afford the type of luxurious timepiece which is more commonly worn by international sports celebrities and award winning hip hop artists.
A popular Thai language Facebook page, CSI LA, has lead the online investigation into Prawit’s fascination with expensive watches, documenting 25 timepieces which he has worn during public appearances.
The combined cost of Prawit’s alleged watch collection is estimated to be around $1.2 million and the web page administrator has vowed to expose more of Prawit’s luxury wristwatches if the National Anti-corruption Commission (NACC) fails to conduct a thorough investigation.
On Tuesday 16th January, Gen Prawit finally broke his silence to the media regarding who actually owned the luxurious timepieces, insisting that they had all been borrowed from friends.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Prawit’s claims that he was simply borrowing his friends’ watches, has been met with some scepticism and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has announced they will summon four individuals to clarify these claims.
Former national reform councillor, Rosana Tositrakul, has called for the Customs and Revenue departments to also investigate the Deputy PM, considering the possibility that Gen Prawit imported the watches without paying the correct import duty.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former political ally of Prawit, warned Prime Minister Prayut that the junta’s credibility is being damaged by the ambiguity surrounding the scandal. While former deputy prime minister Pridiyathorn Devakula added to calls for Prawit to resign explaining, “With the situation being this tense, if I were him, I’d rather resign.”
While not specifically mentioning the investigation into Prawit’s timepieces, Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda warned Prime Minister Prayut that he had nearly run out of support, explaining that the most important thing was for the country’s leaders to behave appropriately and act as role models to the Thai people. Indeed, the public have widely mocked the Deputy PM online.
Rumours that Prawit may not be survive this scandal were raised on Monday, when The Nation newspaper publish an unnamed source who claimed Prawit was ‘close to resigning’.
Prawit’s departure from the government would be a personal blow to the Prime Minister who considers him a ‘blood brother’. Furthermore, Prawit’s skills as a power broker who has been able to successfully negotiate with various political groups will be sorely missed if, as is widely believed, the Junta are in the midst of forming their own political party with the aim of installing Prayut as an outsider PM after November elections.
Time will tell whether Prawit will weather this storm, but there’s no doubt that his fondness for expensive timepieces has already cost his government.