For such a big change it was a very small announcement. An unscheduled communiqué published on its website on Saturday June 16 2018 revealed that Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau had transferred its entire portfolio — royal assets worth tens of billions of dollars held for more than 80 years on behalf of the monarchy and the nation — into the hands of the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“All Crown Property assets are to be transferred and revert to the ownership of His Majesty so that they may be administered and managed at His Majesty’s discretion,” the CPB said, clarifying the details of a crown property law passed the previous year. It added that the assets would “now be held in the name of His Majesty” and be subject to tax.
It was an extraordinary move. Thailand’s royal wealth portfolio is estimated to be worth more than $40bn. In addition to swaths of prime real estate in downtown Bangkok, the CPB owns large stakes in the kingdom’s biggest industrial company, Siam Cement Group, and one of its largest lenders, Siam Commercial Bank. The transfer of ownership from the CPB to the personal control of the king confirmed him as one of the world’s richest monarchs.
Strict restrictions on what can and can’t be said about Thailand’s royal family — most notably a lèse majesté law that carries a maximum 15-year jail term for saying or writing anything that might be construed as an insult — meant that the transfer of ownership was barely reported. Nobody, including the Financial Times, questioned why it was necessary or raised concerns about the concentration of financial power in Thailand’s current head of state.