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Governor keeps his powder dry

November 16, 2000

A NOTABLE absentee from the Thai Rak Thai party list is Bank of Thailand governor MR Chatu Mongol Sonakul who is preparing to take over as finance minister if Thai Rak Thai emerges victorious in the January 6 election.

Political sources say that Chatu Mongol had intended to resign as governor to join Thai Rak Thai's party list, but decided against the move for fear that the Democrats would send in someone to overhaul his work at the central bank.

"He was afraid that if he decided to resign, Khun Tarrin [the finance minister] might appoint a Democrat as governor," said one reliable political source. "In any event, the constitution permits an outsider of the party list to become a minister."

Chatu Mongol still maintained a good relationship with Thai Rak Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, the source said. "He is still the front-runner for the finance portfolio," he added.

When asked recently whether he would include any outsiders in the Cabinet if his party won the election, Thaksin said: "I think there will be only one [outsider]." Although the telecom tycoon did not say so, it is understood that he was referring to Chatu Mongol who has not concealed his ambition to enter the political arena.

On Loy Krathong Day last week, Chatu Mongol was somewhat lost for words when asked by reporters whether he would enter politics. "Well it depends on the political situation," was his tight-lipped reply. "Politics is now very volatile."

It was clear that Chatu Mongol was unable to find the right words to describe his predicament - he would like to leave the central bank, but has to wait until the time is right.

Chatu Mongol has incurred the wrath of the Democrats and their finance minister, Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda, by making public comments against the government and by pursuing policies that more often than not have clashed with the Finance Ministry.

During a recent interview on Channel 8, Tarrin admitted that at one point he had considered removing Chatu Mongol, whom he had nominated as governor. When pressed by Sorrayuth Suthasanachinda, the moderator of the Khom Chat Luk programme, to say when he had considered such a move, Tarrin declined to elaborate.

But political sources said this could have been in the week leading up to April 7, the date on which the central bank brought criminal charges against Sirin Nimmanahaeminda, the former president of the Krung Thai Bank and the younger brother of Tarrin. Sirin was charged with misconduct and negligence involving a loan to executives of the STA Group.

In the same week, Democrats attending the funeral at Wat That Thong of the mother-in-law of Bandid Sirisamphand, a lawyer and close friend of the prime minister, are known to have discussed the possibility of removing Chatu Mongol. Following a firm decision, the sacking would have taken place the following Tuesday - April 11.

But political sources said Chatu Mongol might have got wind of this and acted fast to head off Tarrin by filing the charges against Sirin. By doing so, Chatu Mongol immediately turned the tables on the Democrats by making it virtually impossible for them to remove him without it appearing an act of revenge.

As central bank governor, Chatu Mongol is also privy to sensitive information about a number of politicians, having easy access to records of their financial transactions dating back several years.

"With Thaksin struggling to lay his past financial dealings - involving 17 companies - to rest, it is no wonder Chatu Mongol is so valuable to the telecom tycoon at this critical juncture," said one political analyst.




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