This post continues PPT’s summary of the academic article “Working Towards the Monarchy and its Discontents: Anti-royal Graffiti in Downtown Bangkok,” that is authored by Serhat Ünaldi of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is available (for a fee, free to subscribers or through universities that subscribe) at the Journal of Contemporary Asia.
Our earlier post concentrated on the graffiti, whereas this post is on royal ownership of valuable property. We earlier noted that the article’s analysis of the ownership of the Rajaprasong area was interesting:
The space examined here is a major part of downtown Bangkok and borders the Khlong Saen Saeb canal in the north, Ratchadamri Road in the east, Rama I Road in the south and Phaya Thai Road in the west. Based on land ownership the area can be divided into two. The western part is privately owned by Princess Sirindhorn who, as the landlord, earns the income generated from property rents directly. The eastern section is owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) which manages the assets of the monarchy as an institution but whose generated income is “paid at the King’s pleasure” (p. 8).
As few researchers have ever dared publish on the private assets of the royals, the following bits and pieces from the article deserve attention. The dates are about acquisition/building/registration of the property or company:
The land owned by the princess comprises her palace Wang Sra Pathum (completed in 1916) and the sites of the surrounding commercial buildings: the Siam Kempinski Hotel (2010), the Siam Paragon shopping mall (2006), the Siam Center shopping mall (1973), the Siam Car Park (1994), the Siam Tower offices (1998) and the Siam Discovery shopping mall (1997).
The CPB-owned land encompasses: the Isetan department store (1992), the Centara Grand Hotel (2008), the CentralWorld shopping mall (1989/2006), Zen department store (1989), the Offices at CentralWorld (2005), Chumchon Lang Wat Pathumwanaram (a slum community), Suan Pathumwananurak (an unfinished park) and the Wat Pathum Wanaram school (2007).
The dates are about acquisition/building/registration. There’s more:
… in the Siam-Ratchaprasong area the commercial interests of the monarchy are served not only by income from its properties, for Princess Sirindhorn and King Bhumibol are also major shareholders of the retail company Siam Piwat which operates the Siam shopping malls on Princess Sirindhorn’s land. The king holds 180,000 shares in Siam Piwat and the princess holds 4.32 million shares, most of them acquired from the Ministry of Finance and BankThai (now CIMB Thai Bank) in 2003 and 2005, respectively. This makes the royal family the second biggest shareholder of Siam Piwat. The family thus earns twice: from leasing out land to Siam Piwat and from their shares in the company. The princess could earn an estimated 1.68 billion baht (US$52.5 million) in annual rents from the mall and hotel operators in the “Siam” area, calculated on the basis of recent estimates of land prices in downtown Bangkok of 600 million baht per rai (1,600 m2), a total plot size of approximately 70 rai and a policy – followed by the CPB next door (Grossman 2011, 297) – of raising annual rents of 4% of a property’s market value. Moreover, in 2010, Sirindhorn’s share of Siam Piwat’s net income amounted to 145 million baht (US$4.7 million) or almost a quarter of the company’s total net income attributable to shareholders for that year.5 Siam Piwat itself subleases part of the land to the Siam Kempinski Hotel. The Siam Kempinski is owned by Kempin Siam, a joint venture between the Bahrain-based Al Manar capital group (49%), the Thai property developer Natural Park (35%) and Royal Wealth (16%) which, again, is co-owned by Al Manar and CPB Equity, a holding company which looks after the share dealings of the CPB. Interestingly, by setting up the aptly named company Royal Wealth together with Al Manar, the CPB helped the foreign capital group to increase its shareholding in Kempin Siam beyond 49% to become a majority shareholder in a Thai company. Moreover, the CPB not only co-owns Siam Kempinski, it also owns 86% of the shares of Kempinski Hotels S.A., a world-wide operating luxury hotel chain which manages the Siam Kempinski. In the mid-1990s the Dusit Thani Hotel Group and Siam Commercial Bank (SCB, of which the CPB holds a dominating 23.69%) invested in the ailing Kempinski group. After the 1997 financial crisis the CPB bought the shares from Dusit Thani and the SCB to “face-lift” the bank’s portfolio.
On the political economy of royalism and consumption, the author observes:
Royals often frequent the “Siam” malls whose appeal, through physical proximity to a royal palace, can hardly be replicated elsewhere in the city. Therefore, business success in the Siam area partly depends on the continued power of the monarchy’s sacred charisma. But while the monarchy lends its barami to the shopping malls it also symbiotically profits from them – and not just in terms of income generated from rents and shareholdings. Subtle references to the royal ties of the malls link the monarchy with the material progress of the Bangkok populace, yet carefully avoiding revealing the royal family’s direct financial interest in these commercial operations. As a place of conspicuous consumption, of Louis Vuitton and Ferrari, and as a “royal” mall, Siam Paragon is a double source of social distinction.
All-in-all, this is one academic paper that deserves broad attention and careful reading.