Citing Ethics, Thanathorn Puts Assets Under Blind Trust

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on Monday shows his blind trust agreement to reporters.

BANGKOK — A billionaire turned politician said Monday he has transferred his massive wealth into a blind trust to avoid any conflict of interest in the future.

Though it’s still uncertain whether Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit will hold any political office, the former businessman told reporters he wanted to “set a new standard” for Thai politics. The wealth he transferred into the trust was estimated at about 5 billion baht.

“We cannot deny the fact that the people are already scarred by politicians who … once in power only advance their own gains,” Thanathorn said at a news conference. “My action is meant to settle any skepticism, so that society doesn’t doubt a businessman who enters politics.”

Under a blind trust agreement, Thanathorn’s assets will be overseen by anonymous experts. Thanathorn also said he will not be privy to how his wealth is managed. The system was devised so that the owner of the assets would not know how government decisions could affect his businesses.

Read: ‘I’m Not Part of the Elite,’ Says Billionaire Leader of Progressive Party

It will also save him from a legal restriction that bans members of the cabinets from holding over 5 percent of any public company.

“I will get to see my assets again only when I quit politics. And I took it even further by writing in the contract that the ownership will only be returned to me three years after I quit politics,” said Thanathorn, whose ambition is set on the prime minister’s seat. “This is the highest standard possible for businesspeople working in politics.”

The party leader then signed a contract with Phatara Assets Management in front of reporters. Thanathorn said he selected Phatara because it has no prior history with his own firm.

A transparency activist commended Thanathorn for the effort and urged other politicians to learn from his example.

“It’s a good thing. People should campaign for other politicians to do the same,” Sarinee Achavanuntakul said in an interview. “In terms of transparent governance, this is very good practice.”

Although blind trusts have been recognized since anti-corruption laws came to effect in 2000, few politicians have used them, the activist said. Many instead choose to transfer their assets to close aides who then serve as proxies until their departure from politics.

While Sarinee said Thanathorn was not the first politician to opt for a blind trust – six ministers under then-premier Abhisit Vejjajiva also did – she said others only did so after being confirmed ministers.

“It’s a good sign. Politicians should relinquish control of their assets at the very start of their career in politics,” the expert said.

A scion of an auto parts empire called Thai Summit, Thanathorn entered politics by advocating liberal social policies and economic equality. In multiple press interviews, the 40-year-old maintained he was not seeking office to further his own businesses.

Thanathorn resigned from all positions at private firms last year, including the board of Matichon Group, which owns Khaosod English.

But many of his opponents drew parallels with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon-turned-politician whose administration was fraught with accusations of corruption and nepotism. Asked to comment on the suspicion, Thanathorn said he’s truly done with business.

“When I resigned from Thai Summit, I really resigned. I haven’t gone to their meetings or met their clients since,” Thanathorn said. “It’s not worth it to taint myself once I’m in politics.”

He also maintained that his mother’s sizable stake in Matichon Group do not influence its coverage in any way. Somporn Juangroongruangkit owns 19 percent of the company’s total shares.