Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn returns to Germany, with entourage of 250 people and 30 poodles
- Tabloid newspaper photographs the 69-year-old monarch at Munich’s Hilton Airport hotel swimming pool, accompanied by a younger woman said to be a security guard
- The king’s presence in his adopted Bavarian home has been controversial in both Germany and Thailand. His latest trip coincides with a court verdict that analysts say could be used to crack down on pro-democracy protesters
The tabloid-style Bild newspaper published a picture of what it said was the 69-year-old monarch wearing a dark brown and orange Adidas track suit on the way to the public swimming pool of the Hilton Airport hotel in Munich. The newspaper said the king had arrived in Munich on Monday and that a 250 member entourage had booked the entire fourth floor of the airport hotel for 11 days.
The picture that Bild published showed an elderly man resembling the monarch wearing a mask and escorted by a younger woman wearing a similar track suit that the newspaper said was a security guard.
“All of a sudden the director of the hotel and the king’s security detail came up to me and demanded that I delete the pictures,” Bild reporter Karl Keim said. He said he then called the police for protection from their demands, which were not consistent with German press freedom regulations. “The king’s security detail wouldn’t let me out of their sight. So the police accompanied me to my car.”
The scion of one of the world’s most privileged families has spent a lot of time mysteriously in the southern German state of Bavaria since about 2007 and has treated his adopted home as a playground even as the tabloid press gleefully followed his occasionally eccentric exploits.
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Vajiralongkorn is reported to have purchased a villa near Lake Starnberg in the town of Tutzing in 2016. The monarch left Germany in October 2020 to mark the fourth anniversary of his father’s death and had not left Thailand since then. Previous visits home from Germany usually lasted less than 24 hours.
German newspapers have reported that Vajiralongkorn has spent time in his villa in Tutzing and at a four-star Alpine hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a famous southern German spa town near the Austrian border that hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. He is said to be an avid skier and cyclist.
“He’s back and is feeling at home with his poodles in his favourite kingdom of Bavaria,” Bild wrote, adding he had brought 30 poodles with him from Thailand.
Before he returned to Thailand last year, the German government faced questions in parliament about the king’s legal status in Bavaria. That had attracted considerable media attention a year ago, in particular the questions about whether he was directing authorities against pro-democracy protests in Thailand from Germany and whether he owed Bavaria and Tutzing any inheritance and property taxes.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Germany would not stand for the king making decisions affecting Thailand from German territory.
Court blow for protesters
The king’s return to Germany came as Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that demands by protesters to reform the monarchy violated a provision in the military-drafted charter that bans any move to “overthrow” the royal institution.
The verdict in the case, which was brought against three activists by a former adviser to the ombudsman, demonstrated the political establishment’s opposition to calls for more accountability from the king.
Analysts said the verdict could end efforts in parliament to debate the lese-majesty law – which allows for a maximum of 15 years in jail for people seen as insulting the monarchy – and might even embolden prosecutors to crack down on dissenting voices.
Since the middle of last year, at least 1,636 people have been charged in cases related to the protests. Of these, 154 face lese-majesty charges, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
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A day after the constitutional court ruling, Twitter was awash with the hashtags #subversion, #royalreform and #reformisnotsubversion as young Thais and opposition politicians expressed their disappointment over the sentence.
King Vajiralongkorn’s arrival in Germany has not been discussed as much on the same platform, partly due to the secrecy surrounding the trip. Things became even more muted following the court ruling.
However, on Facebook some criticised the king’s luxurious lifestyle, saying it struck a poor contrast to the struggles of the pro-democracy activists.
How long the king intends to stay in Germany is not clear. Some observers have suggested the trip could be brief since the annual seasonal costume changing ceremony for the Emerald Buddha, carried out by the Thai monarch for centuries, is looming. Last year it happened in November.
Back in Germany, the Thai king’s return has not drawn as much attention as the nation’s media has been focused on rising Covid-19 infections as well as the ongoing efforts by an incoming government to complete coalition negotiations by early December.