The visa-free keep of the Thai king violates German law: Bundestag analysis

HAMBURG, Germany – The Bundestag Research Service has been grappling with the Foreign Ministry after hinting earlier this month that it will not take any action against Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn in terms of its preference in recent years, who lives in the southwestern state of Bavaria.

The two main problems were the type of king's visa for Germany and the question of whether it was handling Thai state affairs on German soil, which would violate German law.

King Vajiralongkorn lived almost permanently in Bavaria until he returned to Thailand in October on the fourth anniversary of his father's death. The visit coincided with escalating demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, increasingly anti-monarchical in tone.

In a written reply to Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble in January, the ministry stated that the Thai monarch does not need a visa to enter the country and that the authorities therefore cannot influence the length of his stay or put him under pressure to appoint a regent in Thailand while he was in Germany.

There was also no concrete evidence that the king was conducting Thai state affairs from Germany.

In a new document seen by Nikkei Asia, parliamentary researchers accused the State Department of effectively creating a "Lex regis thailandia" – a Latin term used to describe the creation of a special law for the Thai king.

In other words, existing laws were either broken or severely bent to suit the king. They argued that visa-free entry and diplomatic immunity would be granted to members of foreign diplomatic delegations, Military contingents, representatives of international organizations or foreigners who are officially invited by the federal government. The king does not fall under any of these categories and lived in Germany without a formal invitation.

In the letter to Schäuble, the Foreign Ministry said King Vajiralongkorn needed a visa when he was still Crown Prince, but not after he became head of state.

"The granting of visa-free entry for the private visits of the Thai king in Germany cannot be justified by the application and interpretation of the relevant laws," said the parliamentary researchers in the latest document. "At best, there is a legal loophole," they added.

The king caused some negative reactions in Germany. He was once photographed by a member of the public visiting a furniture store in a crop top and spent the first COVID-19 lockdown at a luxury hotel in the Bavarian city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen with an alleged harem. Tourism was banned at that time.

The Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where King Vajiralongkorn and his entourage have stayed several times.

© AP

The local media coverage was intense. The press asked if the king was responsible for German inheritance tax following the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October 2016. It even checked that the correct dog license fees had been paid for his beloved poodle, Fu Fu. The dog died in 2015 and has held a number of high military ranks in Thailand.

On October 26, thousands of young demonstrators came to the German embassy in Bangkok and demanded an investigation into the king's activities in Germany. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas then said the authorities would "constantly review what was happening and act immediately if anything is discovered that we believe is against the law".

At the beginning of December, weeks after the king left for Thailand, reporters were still roaming around in front of the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. They asked employees in local stores about the shopping preferences of the king's entourage. A local butcher said Thai visitors bought a full range of meat products, including lamb kebabs, sausages and steaks.

The lights are always switched off in the royal villa in nearby Tutzing. The German daily newspaper Die Zeit found the name Max Mustermann on the doorbell, the German-language equivalent of John Q. Public, and means the personified public.

Sevim Dagdelen, the Left Party's representative in the Bundestag's Committee on Foreign Affairs, who initiated the parliamentary researchers, welcomed the latest clarification.

"The federal government must stop pretending to have their hands tied and use the scope of the immigration law to prevent the Thai king from continuing his despotic government from Germany," Dagdelen told Nikkei.

Should King Vajiralongkorn return to Germany, the government's reaction will depend on the intensity of the media coverage, a well-informed source in the Bundestag who is not authorized to speak to the press told Nikkei.

"I expect the latest interpretation by parliamentary researchers will result in the government facing a new parliamentary investigation into the matter," the source said.

Margarete Bause, the human rights spokeswoman for the Greens, said the latest Bundestag research was a slap in the face of the federal government.

"The State Department has been dealing with the issue for months and uses every possible legal gray area to avoid a clear positioning," said Bause.

"Particularly in view of the increasingly tough crackdown on the Thai opposition, it is irresponsible that the German government should grant the Thai king permanent special rights," she said.

When this article went online, government spokesmen in Bangkok had not responded to questions from Nikkei Asia about King Vajiralongkorn's activities in Germany.