Top aide latest Thai palace official to fall from grace

[BANGKOK] A senior member of the personal security retinue of Thailand's new king has been fired and stripped of his titles, the palace has announced, the latest royal official to publicly fall from grace.

Air Vice Marshal Chitpong Thongkum was accused of improperly using his connections to King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a statement published in the Royal Gazette on Sunday.

"His army rank has been withdrawn and his royal decorations have been rescinded," the statement said, adding that he had "behaved in a way that brought about distrust and caused severe damage to the royal family".

Thailand's enormously wealthy royal family is an opaque institution that releases little information.

It is also shielded by a draconian defamation law that makes scrutiny of its inner workings, or debate over its role, almost impossible inside the kingdom.

Media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the royal family.

King Vajiralongkorn took the throne following the October death of his widely revered father King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for seven decades.

He has yet to attain his father's massive popularity and earlier spent much of his time outside the kingdom.

Mr Chitpong is the latest in a string of people close to King Vajiralongkorn to have been publicly stripped of their titles or seen legal cases brought against them.

Last week police announced that one of the palace's most senior officials, Grand Chamberlain Jumpol Manmai, was being investigated for allegedly building a property on parkland.

Mr Jumpol was a former deputy national police chief before he rose up through the palace ranks.

Other close aides and even family members have been purged under the charge of improperly claiming connections to the king to make money.

In 2015 three people - including a celebrity soothsayer - were arrested under the lese majeste law over such allegations.

The soothsayer and one other suspect died in military custody soon after their arrests.

The year before King Vajiralongkorn announced that his then wife Princess Srirasmi Suwadee, with whom he has a son, had been stripped of her titles.

That move came after half a dozen members of Ms Srirasmi's family were arrested and later jailed on lese majeste charges for allegedly improperly using their connections to him.

Since Ms Srirasmi's fall, King Vajiralongkorn has been seen in the presence of a member of his personal security retinue who has been given the official name of Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya.

She was made a general the day King Vajiralongkorn took the throne.


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