On 11 April, prosecutors indicted Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Progressive Movement, over his video statement in January 2021 addressing the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme that relied heavily on Siam Bioscience, a private company in which, according to Reuters, King Rama X holds all but 2 of the 48 million shares.
(On the right) Thanathorn, along with his team of attornies.
Thanathorn and his lawyer appeared before the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court after the indictment and the prosecutor requested that he be detained pending trial. The Court allowed him bail with 90,000 baht as security.
Thanathorn said that his case is but one example of people being gagged by laws like the royal defamation law, the sedition law and the Computer Crime Act for criticizing or thinking differently from the government and those in power.
“I’m not the first person, and I won’t be the last to be gagged by Section 112 [of the Criminal Code] even though my criticism of the vaccine management was for the benefit of the people, out of a concern that Thai people would get vaccines too slowly and inefficiently. And time has proved that what I said was true. The vaccines that are now most effective are the mRNA type, not viral vector,” said Thanathorn.
The indictment stems from Thanathorn’s video presentation that was broadcast on his Facebook page on 18 January 2021 called “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn't?” It criticized the government's slow procurement of vaccines. He also questioned why Siam Bioscience was the only company to strike a deal with AstraZeneca to produce its viral vector vaccine.
The wording of the indictment states that the video contained content that caused damage to national security and was intended to have the people question if King Rama X has something to do with the government’s policy in procuring the AstraZeneca vaccine via Siam Bioscience, causing damage and insult against the King.
The examples of the offending content were given as:
“Siam Bioscience company, with an initial investment of 4,800 million baht, has accumulated a deficit of 581 million baht in its 11 years of operation. I have to make a minor remark that 2 years ago, there was a change of the name of the shareholders. There was a change of the name of the shareholders from CPB Equity (Ladawan Fund) directly to King Rama X.”
“There was a comment in the fifth National Vaccine Committee meeting on 5 October 2020. The point is, there was one committee member in the meeting who raised doubts that there was concern over conflict of interest because it was a case of government budget supporting a private company, which [the committee member] asked to be considered thoroughly and transparently.”
“Everyone, this led to doubts that we were betting on a single horse or depending on a single structure in procuring vaccines for the Thai people and was this a proper action or not, was it a proper decision of the executive branch or not. Was the action this time more a desire to build political popularity than to find a conclusion in managing vaccines to cover the Thai people in the most inclusive and fastest way or not?”
“Everything leads to the final question, that the shareholder of the Siam Bioscience company is King Rama X who holds the shares directly. Mr Prayut, as Prime Minister, allowed this kind of deal to take place. If it happens that this deal has something go wrong, can Mr Prayut take responsibility? If it happens that production of the vaccine is delayed beyond the deadline, if it happens that the vaccine has a problem of unfair distribution to the people, if it happens that people are to allergic to the vaccine or the vaccine effectiveness is less than the target, can Mr Prayut take responsibility? Because the people will certainly question the Siam Bioscience company whose shareholder is King Rama X.”
Thanathorn’s presentation was made at a time when the Thai government had started to look for ways to procure Covid-19 vaccines from producers around the world in parallel with a surge of infections and deaths in the kingdom.
After questionably deciding not to join COVAX, a global vaccine distribution scheme, the Thai government struck a deal allowing Siam Bioscience to be the sole local producer for AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, to produce AZD1222, a viral vector vaccine developed by Oxford University, with production aimed at distribution to people in Thailand and other countries.
The deal was made public in a Letter of Intent signing ceremony on 12 October 2020 between AstraZeneca, the Ministry of Public Health, Siam Bioscience and the Siam Cement Group where the Public Health Ministry announced it would pay 6,000 million baht to reserve vaccines that would be produced from Thailand.
A contract that was leaked in June 2021 stated that AstraZeneca, via the Siam Bioscience production facility, would deliver to Thailand 61 million out of 175 million doses produced, with the rest being distributed to other countries. The deal, at that time, was Thailand’s one and only procurement contract.
At the signing ceremony on 27 November 2020, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Thai PM stated that he was assured that Thailand would have enough Covid-19 vaccines to distribute and that he was grateful to King Rama X who bestowed Siam Bioscience to engage in vaccine development which would benefit the people.
Vaccines from the Thai producer were delivered slower than was expected after mid 2021. In the meantime, over 30 million doses of Sinovac vaccines were ordered from China to make up for the shortfall. However, the effectiveness of Sinovac, an inactivated vaccine, was low in comparison to viral vector and mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines were the last kind of vaccine to arrive in Thailand at the end of 2021.
Coincidentally, it was during July to October 2021 when Thailand suffered the most deaths from Covid-19, at a rate of over 100 daily, as the Delta variant ran rampant.
According to the Department of Business Development, Siam Bioscience had finally achieved its first profit in 5 years in 2020 fiscal year with 35 million baht in value.