Thailand’s junta number two has been snapped with 25 different luxury watches worth THB39.5 million (about US$1.24 million) since a 2014 coup, social media sleuths said Wednesday, a day after the ex-general vowed to resign if a graft panel finds him guilty of wrongdoing.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has been under pressure since December when the “CSI LA” Facebook page began to catalogue luxury timepieces worn by the deputy prime minister from photos and internet news reports.
The concerted social media campaign is urging the kingdom’s anti-graft body to probe how the luxury watches came into Prawit’s possession — and is hugely embarrassing to Thailand’s military government.
It toppled the government of Yingluck Shinwatra in 2014 vowing to purge the country of graft, a scourge it blamed on Thailand’s civilian rulers.
Prawit was one of the architects of the coup.
On Wednesday the Thai-language CSI LA page raised the watch tally after finding a fresh photo of him wearing a Patek Philippe model at a temple ceremony in 2014.
“We have found 25 luxury watches worth more than $1.24 million, including 11 Rolexes, eight Patek Philippes and three Richard Millies,” a post said, urging its near-750,000 followers to unearth more photos.
Prawit has so far not disputed the number of watches.
But on Tuesday he told reporters his “friends lent” him watches which he duly returned.
Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has let a deadline for Prawit to issue a formal explanation over the watches slip several times.
The NACC is headed by one of the junta top brass’ former subordinates, raising fears of a whitewash.
If the NACC rules “that I am wrong, I will quit,” Prawit told reporters.
The slew of bad headlines engulfing Prawit comes as his main ally, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha remodels himself from a strongman general into a politician ahead of elections slated for the end of this year.
But the watch issue has angered both junta critics and erstwhile supporters in a divided country where politics is usually a strictly partisan affair.
Observers say that outrage represents fatigue with junta rule, which is widely seen as top-heavy and ineffective, and a wider yearning for a return to elections.
“The watch issue is a sign that a new political proposition is emerging,” Sirote Klampaiboon, a political commentator told AFP.
“This is the first time since the junta took over in 2014 that political groups of different sides have come together, leaving their conflicts in the past.”