THE full extent of the crisis in Thailand’s royal family has been revealed in leaked US embassy cables, which report that the revered king is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and depression, and that his heir, the crown prince, may be HIV-positive.
According to the secret documents — written over six years by US diplomats, including ambassadors to Bangkok — Thailand will face a “moment of truth” after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, is regarded as his most likely successor. “It is hard to underestimate the political impact of the uncertainty surrounding the inevitable succession crisis which will be touched off once King Bhumibol passes,” reads one cable from 2009, by James Entwistle, the US charge d’affaires.
Others discuss the possibility that the death of the 83-year-old king will be followed by a military coup or a succession crisis in which the prince’s claim to the throne is challenged by the queen or his older sister, Princess Sirindhorn.
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Rumours about the health of the king and crown prince have circulated for years but they are never aired openly in a country in which criticism of the royal family can be punished with a prison sentence. Such unabashed discussion of the court’s secrets by senior diplomats of Thailand’s most important ally will cause fury in Bangkok. Their appearance online will add to political tensions in the run-up to an election on July 3.
An article analysing the cables, which were obtained by WikiLeaks, is due to be published online today by Andrew Marshall, a British journalist who formerly worked for Reuters. He resigned three weeks ago after the news agency declined to publish his reporting on the cables.
Several foreigners and scores of Thais have received prison sentences as long as 15 years under the country’s lese-majesty laws, and Reuters has 1600 staff in Thailand.
‘The US cables were just too risky (for Reuters) to run,” Marshall said. Reuters said it had declined to publish because it had “questions regarding length, sourcing, objectivity and legal issues”.
The king has been in hospital for almost two years and, if the US cables are right, his health is far worse than the vague and optimistic official bulletins acknowledge.
A cable written soon after his indisposition in 2009 by Eric John, the US ambassador at the time, cites embassy sources who said the king was “beset long-term by Parkinson’s, depression and chronic lower back pain”.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as telling a US diplomat that the problem was the king’s mental health. “Suthep confirmed . . . that King Bhumibol exhibits classic symptoms of depression (and) that the really (sic) worry was his state of mind, depressed at the state of affairs in his kingdom at the end of his life”.
King Bhumibol’s frailty adds to anxiety about the 58-year-old prince. Mr John reported that the prince was “long known for violent and unpredictable mood swings”, and “has spent most (up to 75 per cent) of the past two years based in Europe (primarily at a villa at a medicinal spa 20km outside Munich), with his leading mistress and beloved white poodle Fufu”.
One cable recounts that the dog was named after an air chief marshal. Another suggests that “people would have a difficult time accepting his current wife, Princess Srirasmi, as their queen, based largely on a widely distributed salacious video of the birthday celebration for Fufu, in which Princess Srirasmi appears wearing nothing more than a G-string”.
Most startling is the credence that Mr John gives to the rumour about the crown prince being treated for a life-threatening illness. In 2009, he wrote: “Vajiralongkorn is believed to be suffering from a blood-related medical condition (varying sources claim he is either: HIV-positive; has hepatitis C; is afflicted by a rare form of ‘blood cancer’ or some combination which leads to regular blood transfusions).”
The cables report that Queen Sirikit has become active in politics, taking the side of the Yellow Shirt movement, which campaigned against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and supported the coup that drove him into exile in 2006.
It has also brought her into conflict with the crown prince, who is described by Mr John as having been given large sums of money by the ousted prime minister, “skimmed from the state lottery to the crown prince’s office”.
Kitti Wasinondh, the Thai ambassador in London, said: “Royal succession in Thailand is governed by palace laws and the Thai constitution, which should ensure a smooth transition. There is no cause for uncertainty and no warranted basis for speculation.”