Plenty of theories, but not a lot of evidence just yet. Who tried to kill Sondhi Limthongkul? There are many theories but no clear answers one week after the failed “hit”.
Police investigators have yet to finish collecting evidence and statements from witnesses who saw the attack on the outspoken media tycoon. Bullets have been collected from the scene of the crime and interviews conducted with an eyewitness at a petrol station in Bang Lamphu.
The unnamed witness said he saw men in military-style uniforms fire rifles at Sondhi for a minute before leaving the scene – but he did not see the gunmen’s faces.
Army Commander in Chief General Anupong Paochinda admitted yesterday that bullets from M-16 assault rifles found at the scene came from an Army unit in the First Army Region.
But the evidence to date has not been strong enough to pin anybody down, even though many public figures and others have jumped to conclusions as to who is behind the attack.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has gone further than anyone, suggesting that former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was behind the assassination attempt.
“The last resort of the former PM of Thailand [Thaksin] having failed on the populist movement and mass unrest and now, I think, he resorted to some sort of assassination attempt,” Kasit said in a speech to the Asia Society in New York.
A video clip and transcript of his speech is available on the Asia Society’s website.
Thaksin’s legal advisers have threatened to file libel suit against Kasit.
Sondhi appears to differ with Kasit. Judging from what his son Jittanart Limthongkul and media outlets have said it suspects a faction of the “uniformed armed forces” may be behind the move to kill him.
Sondhi apparently thinks people in the military wanted to eliminate him and put the blame on Thaksin and his red shirt mob, in a bid to provoke Sondhi’s supporters in the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to attack their foes, the reds.
Clashes between the rival groups could have been a pre?text for the military to stage a coup and seize the power from Abhisit Vejjajiva, on grounds that the government was unable to maintain law and order.
In fact, factions of the Army could launch a coup at any time. They don’t necessarily need civil strife as an excuse. The Army took the opportunity when Thaksin was overseas in Sept 2006. But conspiracy theorists are arguing now that a group within the military thinks it should grab power for longer than the Surayud Government held office (just over a year).
Riots would, of course, help legitimise any such move. And without Sondhi, it might also be easier for the military to control the PAD.
The military coup theory was floated by red shirt leader Jakrapob Penkair, who has gone “underground” and told foreign reporters that opponents of Abhisit’s government are now considering using guerrilla insurgency tactics.
Another theory is that Sondhi has a conflict with people in the Cabinet, as he was disappointed with the recent police reshuffle, because officers he was close to were not put in good positions. He has also criticised Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban for failing of oversee public security well, saying the PM Abhisit should dump him.
But others aren’t convinced people in the government would take such a risk because of a ‘minor’ conflict. Another theory is that pro-government blue shirts wanted to get rid of Sondhi for the simple reason of wanting to merge with the PAD to destroy the red shirts.
By getting rid of Sondhi, the blue shirts group would kill two birds with one stone. Sondhi would no longer make demands on the government to reward him for helping to topple the Thaksin’s proxy governments.
And, if the assassination attempt prompted a clash with the red shirts, it would give the authorities reason to suppress Thaksin’s reds.
Newin Chidchob, leader of the blue shirts and government faction leader, has rejected this allegation. His father Chai, who is the House Speaker, said Newin would never kill anybody since he is kind and loves to help people – otherwise he would not have been elected as an MP many times.
Very few people believe the move to kill Sondhi was caused by a business conflict.
These days, the media tycoon maintains only his core media business.
He made many attempts to establish ASTV as a television station and get a 3G (third generation) concession, but such deals are not thought to have caused serious disputes.
By The Nation
Published on April 24, 2009