TOMORROW marks the beginning of Phansa or the “Buddhist Lent” – a three-month period during which most Thais renew their spiritual strength. Monks will eat less and meditate more while lay people will try to abstain from vices and make merit for themselves through prayers, good deeds and good thoughts.
By the way things are going, they should also try to stay away from the news because most of the stories over the next few days, at least, promise only to dwell on the profane.
Whether they like it or not, sordid details of the latest scandals are set to be spewed ad nauseam.
Take these two as examples:
z A pornographic video compact disc of an hour-long sex romp starring an eminent academic and the socialite daughter of a well-known politician.
z Senior police officers raking in bribes to the tune of Bt12mil (about RM1.2mil) a month from the sex trade.
The porn VCD involving two “high-society” individuals has aroused the most interest.
Last Wednesday, the usually conservative and politically-inclined Baan Muang newspaper shocked its readers when it carried a fuzzy image of a nude couple on the front page.
The brief story was indeed a teaser. It only stated that the purposely-blurred picture was taken from a home-made video showing an hour-long sex romp in a luxury condominium. And as if to justify its use in the paper, the report said the man and the woman were “connected to politics.”
Their identities are no longer a mystery for both are from rich and powerful families.
Curious Thais were willing to pay up to Bt1,000 for a copy on Thursday but by the weekend the price had dropped to Bt200. The VCD is widely circulated and even available at the Mah Boon Kroong shopping plaza that is popular among Malaysian and Singaporean tourists.
The 30-something guy featured in the VCD must certainly be a man of many talents. His primary job is Dean of Business Administration of a reputable university located in the outskirts of the city.
The academic used to be an aspiring politician but retreated to the background after faring badly in the last general election. Up till recently, he was an adviser to a high-profile veteran politician – whose daughter, incidentally, is featured in the video. She works at the same university but not as a member of the academic staff.
Rumours are rife that she has been shipped out of the country to minimise the embarrassment to the family. The politician has two spouses and she is the daughter of the mia noi (minor wife).
Although Baan Muang claimed that it reported the story with the noble aim of “warning people in high society to be more careful” in guarding their private lives, the motive smacks of something more sinister – it is either political or economic.
Enough suspicion has been stirred over the expose because the paper is known to be close to the Chart Thai Party, a partner in Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government.
How the VCD ended up in public remains a puzzle. One version of the story is that it was stolen from a car sent to be washed at a petrol station. Another theory is that the woman herself wanted it to be exposed after being scorned. Thais expect the details to gush out when at least one peddler is caught and brought to court soon.
The other unfolding drama is equally exciting, despite its tired old script of police corruption.
Everybody might know that greased palms of crooked cops protect the owners of sleazy bars and massage parlours and other illegal businesses throughout the country.
But the disclosure by Chuwit Komolvist – dubbed Bangkok's “King of the sex industry” by the local media – that he had been paying the police Bt12mil a month in bribes has certainly jolted Thai society into realising the seriousness of the issue.
Chuwit, the owner of the Davis Group of companies including several upscale massage parlours in the city, is on bail after being charged with ordering the demolition of his tenant pubs and restaurants at Sukhumvit Square on Jan 26. He also faces another charge of employing underage girls in his massage parlours.
After lying low for almost six months, Chuwit appeared on a TV talk show on Tuesday to give his side of the story. The next day, he called for a press conference in which he garrulously spilled more beans over the kickbacks.
He claimed that he was being singled out because a deputy commander of the police precinct was unhappy in not getting a bigger share.
“A cornered dog will at least bark to defend itself. I am human. If I am accused, I swear to drag all the officers who took money from me. I used to give them bags-ful of money on top of the taxes I had to pay to the government but the cops were not happy when the money came in envelopes,” he said.
Chuwit also defended his business, saying that his six massage parlours catered to the well-heeled, including top brass in the police and the military. He said a deputy minister, whom he referred to as “P,” was a regular customer.
“Now he pretends he doesn't know me,” he said.
Almost immediately, Police Chief Gen Sant Sarutanont ordered an inquiry and warned Chuwit he would be slapped with a defamation suit if the allegations were proven to be false.
The embattled sex-industry tycoon responded by saying he had all the payment records and will name the officers only if Prime Minister Thaksin and Gen Sant could guarantee he would not be sued.
On Thursday, after Thaksin agreed to look into the evidence, Chuwit went missing. About 24 hours after his common-law wife Suratcha Waewsri lodged a report, the man was found in the early hours of Friday. He was reportedly in a daze, trying to stop a truck on the busy Bangkok-Chonburi highway.
At the Bumrungrad Hospital where he is still being warded, Chuwit called for two press conferences, one at 3pm and then at 6pm.
In the first, he said he was abducted by four unknown men in a pick-up who had blocked the taxi he was in and pulled him out. He said he was blindfolded and driven around for two hours.
In the second meeting with the media, he said the men were cops who wanted to know why he had exposed the matter to the police; they repeatedly asked for his notebook containing the details of his payouts.
“It was as if they were waiting for an order from someone to kill me but I think the extensive press coverage about my disappearance saved me,” he said.
Chuwit said one of the men forced him at gunpoint to drink a bottle of liquor, adding that he almost finished a glass before passing out. He said he was on the highway when he awoke and tried to stop passing vehicles.
Gen Sant, however, has pooh-poohed the story, saying the sex industry tycoon must have been under great stress after lying and could have been high on drugs.
According to news reports yesterday, the police chief had responded to the allegations with a big wry smile, saying: “If he was really abducted, he would not have been released.”
The doubtful credibility of both Chuwit and Gen Sant has made the spectacle more thrilling.
The police chief, who admitted to a parliamentary committee last year that corruption was rampant in the force, is currently the subject of a sexual harassment probe.
Yes, it is Phansa but the Thai public will be following the news. For one thing, the ongoing episodes are a lot more entertaining than the weary soap operas and mindless celebrity game shows on TV.
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