Chacun cherche son Chat | 24.06.05

Perusing the Bangkok Post’s report yesterday about the police raid on an underground casino, the observant reader would remark the graphic’s caption:

Bangkok Post's graphic about busted casino's six entrances

Six gates to Chat Taopoon’s gambling dens and gambling buildings

Who, or what, exactly is Chat Taopoon?

You will find out easily enough in the article that Taopoon is the Bangkok district where the casino is located. But Chat? The word is never mentioned, let alone explained.

The Nation is even worse, making no attempt whatsoever to look beyond the guy who’s dumb and dispensable enough to be the building’s nominal “owner”. The Economist’s “most outspoken” newspaper is markedly silent here.

So once again, it’s up to this lowly blogger to shed some light. Chat Taopoon is the commonly-known moniker of Chatchawal Kong-udom, a Bangkok senator since 2000. His name being synonymous with underground gambling in many people’s minds, he himself has admitted to having been a gambler (and, if I’m not mistaken, even a casino operator) but maintains he’s long since quit.

Senator Chatchawal belongs to no political party, as party association, like election campaigning, is forbidden to senators and senate candidates by our oh-so-democratic, eight-year-old “People’s Constitution”. (That’s thankfully not the official name, but one given to the document by the once overenthusiastic pinko-turned-NGO crowd that is now clamoring to revise it.) He was elected thanks to his Corleone-like stature with the Taopoon slum community.

So there, some relevant background on “Chat Taopoon”. That’s not so hard, is it? The Thai-language press, which adheres to no higher journalistic standards than do the Post and The Nation, at least went to the man and got a denial of any involvements. That includes even Siamrath, which is owned by Senator Chachawal:

Mr. Chatchawal Kong-udom, a Bangkok senator, said of the police crackdown on the Taopoon casino, that there is no impact on him because [there’s] no involvement. [He] admitted that 10 years ago he did like to gamble — having both won and lost — but later [he] realized that gambling is bad and gave up accordingly.

“When this happens, everybody’s turning to me. But what can I do, if they want to think so.” [Translated from Thai by yours truly.]

The senator should cheer up. The Bangkok Post and The Nation are not turning to him, which means our intrepid international correspondents, who rely on them for “news”, won’t be either.

It may not last, though. In championing legalized gambling (surprise, surprise), he has the misfortune of being on the same side of the issue as PM Thaksin. That such a shady character should fear bad press from an association with the overwhelmingly-elected premier instead of the other way round, speaks volume of how the media (especially the international one) is covering Thai politics.

PS The post’s title, meaning “each is looking for his Chat (cat)”, is inspired by a French film that I highly recommend not watching.

update Almost at the end of this follow-up story in today’s Bangkok Post:

Among the gamblers was Sapol Kong-udom, who has the same surname as Senator Chatchawal Kong-udom.

Mr Chatchawal denied any connection to the casino.

The same surname. Now here’s a favorite for Thailand’s investigative reporting of the year.

22:19 ▪ media

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