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Thai playboy prince pays £12m to release aircraft

  • @AndrewBuncombe

Thailand's controversial crown prince has agreed to pay more than £12m in order to secure the release of an impounded plane that is at the centre of an unlikely diplomatic spat between his nation and the German authorities.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn said he would pay for the bond from his own funds to ensure the return of the Boeing 737, which he owns, in order to end an uncomfortable stand-off between the two countries.

“The crown prince has no connection with the dispute,” the prince’s secretariat said in a statement. “To avoid any impact to the good relationship between Thailand and Germany and to end the dispute on good terms and in an expeditious manner, the crown prince will provide his personal funds to end the dispute.”

The odd, twisting tussle between the two countries has had the effect of triggering fresh speculation about why the crown prince’s private jet was in Munich. Earlier this summer, US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, referred to unsubstantiated rumours about the prince’s health and whether he was travelling to Germany for medical treatment.

The plane was seized last month in Munich by insolvency officials pursuing what they said was a 20-year-old debt owed by the government of Thailand to a now defunct German construction firm, Walter Bau AG.

The impounding of the plane infuriated Thailand’s government, which said it was the personal property of the prince. It instead sought to have the plane released without a payment. “We are confident that the aircraft belongs to the crown prince. He is not involved with this case and the documents are very solid, so there is no need to pay the guarantee,” Thailand’s foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, had previously argued.

The dispute dates back from than two decades when German company Dywidag helped build a 15 mile toll road to Don Muang airport, formerly Bangkok’s main international airport and now the city’s domestic terminal. In 2001, Dywidag merged with Walter Bau, which later became insolvent.

Yesterday, the crown prince, first in line to succeed Thailand’s popular but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, sought to put the matter behind him by overseeing the opening of a new parliament, a move that will usher in a new government led by the sister of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Parliamentarians dressed in white uniforms attended the ceremony at a royal hall led by the crown prince. The 500-seat lower house will convene later today and elect the House Speaker and two deputies. Mr Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is expected to be elected prime minister by members next week.

The 2006 military coup that ousted Mr Thaksin set off an often violent struggle for power between his supporters and opponents. The Pheu Thai Party loyal to him won a 265-seat majority in the 3 July election, taking back power from the rival Democrat Party. Pheu Thai says it expects to form a coalition government with 300 seats.

Ms Yingluck, 44, has promised the sort of populist policies that made her brother popular. These are likely to include a large increase in the minimum wage, credit cards for farmers and tablet computers for schoolchildren. Political reconciliation is on the agenda, though critics claim it would be implemented mainly to rehabilitate her brother and allow him to return to Thailand without fear of legal consequences.