In January 2018, Department of Special Investigation officials and soldiers raided Victoria’s Secret, a massage parlour on Bangkok’s Rama 9. Six managers were arrested, 113 women were detained and an arrest warrant was put out for the owner Kampol Weerathepsuporn. The massage parlour, in reality a large-scale brothel, had for years offered migrant and underage girls for sexual services. The motive for its sudden closure must be sought in Thailand’s increasingly heated elite power struggles.
In the aftermath of the raid, it was revealed that Kampol had given a 300 million baht loan to Police General Somyot Poompanmoung while the latter was serving as commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police and on the National Legislative Assembly. Somyot had been appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to lead the Thai police.
As the raid made national news, Chuwit Kamolvisit a massage parlour owner-turned-politician and media personality, made a series of revelations about the case. Drawing on his inside knowledge, Chuwit—who founded and ran Victoria’s Secret before selling it to Kampol in 2004—pointed out the links between the massage parlour and Aqua Corporation. Aqua is a company listed on the Thai stock exchange that was taken over by Kampol and a network of investors in 2014. Once in control of the company, the new owners changed the management and board and sold off assets, in effect turning it into a shell company. Aqua was to serve as a conduit to launder money from the massage business and other shady deals.
In his revelations, Chuwit pointed out that the amount of money channelled through Aqua is far larger than what could be made from a massage parlour business and suggested Aqua is also being used to launder money from government corruption. Records of share ownership and business dealings confirm the story. Aqua quickly moved to stop reporting about its links to the massage business by launching a 333 million baht lawsuit against Chuwit and the media outlets that had run the story.
But the revelations stopped short of addressing some key issues. Chuwit, recently released from prison, was careful to omit the most sensitive aspects—in particular the massage parlour’s links to the NCPO. Victoria’s secret was far from fully revealed.
Kampol is part of a network of influential persons with direct links to the junta. On the board of Aqua we find Police Lieutenant General Wiboon Bangthamai, a current member of the National Legislative Assembly. Wiboon is married to a sister of junta leader General Prayuth’s wife. Support from Prayuth has been important as Wiboon has advanced rapidly up the ranks of the police. Wiboon was brought in to sit on the board of Aqua while serving as commander of the immigration police—no wonder that Victoria’s Secret and the other parlours owned by Kampol could secure a steady stream of young women from neighbouring countries to work.
Among investors in Aqua we find Chai Bunnag. Chai has built an expanding media empire controlled by his News Network Corporation. Through this, he controls several TV news channels including Spring News, T News and INN News. Recently he also wrested control over the Nation Group, expanding the number of TV channels under his control as well as making a major push into English and Thai language print media.
All of the news outlets under Chai’s control are strongly right-wing and support the NCPO. In the aftermath of the raid on Victoria’s Secret, they have defended Somyot, Aqua and others within the network.
As a further twist to the story, the network around Kampol have central roles within Thai football. Somyot serves as the President of the Football Association of Thailand. Watanya Wongopasi, the wife of Chai Bunnag, used to manage the women’s U23 team. Kampol holds an ownership stake in Chiang Rai United and Aqua sponsors the same club. With football becoming a core part of the efforts of political groups to build strong provincial support bases, this network has the potential to leverage its influence over football for political influence.
The raid against Victoria’s Secret was orchestrated by a group within the state that is opposing the growing influence of the Kampol–Chai–Somyot network—but their identity is still not known. Important secrets are yet to be brought into the light. The sources of the illicit money laundered through Aqua have also yet to be revealed. Exposing the details of these shady dealings are key to understanding the nature of graft under the NCPO.
New Mandala has confirmed the identity and credentials of the author. In respect of the author’s wishes, this article has been published anonymously.