The eccentric billionaire king of Thailand, one of the world’s richest men with an estimated fortune of $40 billion, has been accused of breaking international law by governing his country from a luxury German ski resort, where he’s said to be seeing out the coronavirus pandemic in the company of a retinue of concubines.
Thailand insists King Rama, otherwise known as Maha Vajiralongkorn, is visiting the country in a private capacity. But WDR, a German public broadcaster, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper have published evidence that he’s using Germany as a base to conduct state affairs.
Over the past 18 months, he has sent nearly 100 letters to heads of state, most of them from his Bavarian retreat, according to an account of the investigation from The Times of London. He allegedly congratulated the Greek president on his appointment, named several new generals, and banned his sister from standing in Thai elections—all from the comfort of the luxury resort.
It’s claimed that he also issued an order for the execution of a criminal during his stay.
The Thai embassy in Berlin has yet to respond to the allegations.
The king’s extended stay in Germany while carrying out affairs of state could breach the principle of territorial sovereignty. Critics are reportedly urging the government to declare him persona non grata in Germany and hit him with a €3 billion ($3.6 billion) inheritance tax bill.
Thailand is likely to argue that other heads of government have managed their country’s affairs during trips abroad, but the extended nature of the king’s stay will embolden critics who say that governing from Germany infringes on Germany’s rights as a sovereign nation.
Vajiralongkorn’s effective residency in Germany came to light at the beginning of the pandemic, when German hotels were ordered to close by the government. The Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl, in the Alpine resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, successfully appealed against the ruling, arguing that it should be allowed to continue hosting the king.
German leader Angela Merkel has been urged by the Thai opposition to expel him, and Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, has warned the king that he’ll face “immediate consequences” if he’s found to be unlawfully carrying out government business on German soil.
German consciences have been pricked by reports of increasingly heavy-handed repression of a Thai protest movement against the excesses of the monarchy. Reports of the king’s sex life, eccentric practices such as appointing a poodle as a courtier, and photos of him at a German shopping center wearing a tiny crop top haven’t helped matters.
The king has long been accused of profligacy and extravagance, and The Daily Beast reported earlier this year that he was alleged to have built up an extraordinary fleet of 38 jets and helicopters for his use. Maintenance, fuel, ground support, and other costs of the fleet total almost $64 million for the coming fiscal year, according to documents shared with the Financial Times.
Thailand’s law prohibits criticism of the semi-divine royal family or their household, which includes their pets. Violations are punishable by as much as 35 years in jail. However, reports of the king’s indulgent life in Germany increasingly filter back to the country on social media.
Thailand earlier this year sought to get Facebook to remove a group critical of the monarchy that had more than a million members on the platform.
Thailand’s youth protest movement is demanding an end to the harassment of political dissidents, the writing of a new constitution, and reforms of the monarchy.
The country’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, has been battered by the pandemic, sharpening grievances against the king’s indulgent lifestyle.