21 May 2024

The thin line between being a whistleblower and shrewd schemer is thinner in Thailand, which boasts one of the world’s biggest numbers of squealers, who exist largely in the political sphere. Controversial as they are, Chuvit Kamolvisit is absolutely on another planet.

The court has barred him from campaigning against the Bhumjaithai Party’s cannabis policy. Worms are everywhere after his war of words with famous lawyer Sittra Biabungkerd opened the can. The issue of “Chinese grey businesses” would not have got supreme attention without him. He alleged massive bribes in government projects and has gone toe to toe with influential media outlet, the Manager. The Siriraj and Thammasat University hospitals have returned his generous donations, with image concern written all over their moves.

Some people rate him for “having the guts” to cross basically anyone no matter how powerful they are in Thai society, but others cannot shake off deep mistrust or skepticism, particularly when they look at the man’s piece of land in Sukhumvit.

The land’s estimated value when a majordevelopment plan is taken into account dwarfs those of most, if not all, secrets exposed by Chuvit. Some work has begun on the land, located between BTS Nana and Sukhumvit Soi 10 and, if allowed to complete, the Tenth Avenue mix-use development project will be worth some Bt10 billion.

Here’s the problem: Chuvit, records appeared to show, used a verbal promise to turn the land into a public park to get his jail sentence reduced. By allowing the land to become a “Bangkok lung”, he allegedly was seeking leniency from the courts after using bulldozers to demolish his tenants’ businesses in 2003 in the dead of night. It was a big case at that time and is another big scar yet in his colourful and scandalous background.

The “beer bar demolition” case lasted years before coming to a conclusion in mid-2016. Chuvit, with his cooperation, was found guilty but the Supreme Court cut his sentence from five years to two years because of his apparent goodwill gesture. A lot of people, therefore, understandably frowned when the “Chuvit Garden” became off-limit to clean-air seekers about a decade after it had opened. “I have let the land be used for public benefits for twelve years while I could have got billions of baht from it,” he now said as the scrutiny of his intentions intensified.

That quote was a far cry from what he said in the past, though. Almost two decades ago, letting the land be used as a park was an example of selflessness and philanthropy that all rich businesspersons should follow. When you die, you can’t take anything with you and even the coins ceremoniously put in the coffin can be taken away by some undertakers, he kept preaching at that time.

Chuwit Kamolvisit: Thailand’s ‘super-pimp’ turned sensational whistleblower

This is what he exactly said in 2005: “This is named Chuvit Garden, but personally I want to call it SuanSajai (One loose translation can be What-the-hell-I’m-going-to-do-it-this-way garden). I’m a man of his word, not a trash talker who only say nonsense at press conferences. I would like to ask all rich landlords in Bangkok to make noble use of their otherwise-abandoned property.”

Also in 2005: “I used to promise to give Bangkok a lung and I want it to remind people with hundreds of billions of baht that money can’t go with them when they die. Even ngern paak phi (coins put in the coffin) can be seized by the undertaker. I had wanted to erect a four-star hotel on this land and already paid Bt30 million for the blueprint but have cancelled the plan.”

Legal matters aside, verbal interpretation will be a hair-splitting exercise. Did he say he was giving up the land for good? No, the man now said himself. The only thing that is clear is the proclaimed view in the past on death and worldly assets, but admittedly vague is whether he was handing over the land to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration permanently.

Perhaps popular Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt’s first big challenge is deciding what to do with the now-defunct Chuvit Garden”. The official’s team has been asked to look into past verdicts, testimonies, and how legally binding mere words can be. A lot of other people must be doing the same thing right now.

(Having talked about the Bangkok governor, imagine how uproarious it would have been had Chuvit managed to fulfil his city gubernatorial dreams and had to deal with the park controversy at the same time.)

It was lawyer Sittra who said that words can be as strong as written contracts, especially if the courts are involved. That has intensified the two men’s verbal warfare regarding whose money-spinning tactics were dirtier. This has led to a re-investigation into how donations made for Chaiyaphol Wipa, the key suspect in the disappearance and death of a three-year-old girl in 2020, were handled.

To cut a very long story short, Chaiyaphol has claimed amid the Chuvit-Sittra uproar that while Sittra was telling the public that he did not charge him a single baht working as his defence lawyer, his (Chaiyaphol’s) fanclub was donating large sums to the foundation associated with Sittra’s law firm. Sittra, who cancelled his service for Chaiyaphol not long after the suspect’s arrest, has denied the claims and is reportedly planning to sue.

This was an example of how Chuvit can kick up big storms. In the past, people paid less attention to the fact that he was directly involved in the flesh trade than to his claims that he had to pay the police big bribes.

As they say, it takes one to know one. That is probably the big reason why so many, rightly or wrongly, like the guy even as more dirty linen waits to be washed in public between Chuvit and his antagonists.

By Tulsathit Taptim