Contract between the US lobbying firm APCO Worldwide and Thanathorn is for $10,000 per month and runs until the end of the year allowing the US firm to undertake PR and work on his behalf to influence US policymakers and the public. This week, the Future Party stoutly defended the arrangement and denying the contract was ‘leaked’ by pointing out that it was published under US laws which demands transparency in this area.
The government in Thailand is believed to be looking into the hiring of a US lobbying firm by Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for a four-day visit to the United States in July. Questions are being asked following a series of protest incidents which dogged the Thai prime minister’s successful trip to New York this week although Thailand’s third-largest political party has denied that it is linked to any overt political attacks on the Thai government in the United States.
The 40-year-old embattled leader of the Future Forward Party, the new political movement that shocked the establishment this year by gaining 81 seats in the March 24th election in Thailand, has come out defending his hiring of a US lobbying firm in Washington for a trip to the United States in July this year.
Lobbying firm hired for opposition leader’s July trip to Washington to help open doors
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has promised to clarify the arrangement after a document surfaced purporting to be the contract signed by the young party leader and APCO Worldwide LLC retaining the services of the firm for $10,000 per month until the end of this year.
The contract also specifies a monthly allowance of $5,000 for expenses incurred in the course of the work allowing for a maximum amount of $15,000.
Mr Thanathorn and his party have explained that the document was not a leak but rather published by the US firm as this is required under American Transparency laws.
The Future Forward leader has explained that the firm helped to coordinate his trip to the United States from July 12th to July 16th this year. This included providing documents in English and arranging introductions to influential leaders such as members of Congress, ambassadors and key officials.
Trip to brief US policymakers and congress
The purpose of the trip according to Future Forward was to brief US lawmakers on the current political situation in Thailand following the March 24th poll and election of current Prime Minister Prayut Chann-och to that office.
Deputy Prime Minister suggested an investigation into the matter was required despite clarification
This week, the Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuman, has suggested that an investigation into Mr Thanathorn’s dealings with the US firm was required. It follows the successful visit of the Thai Prime Minister’s Prayut Chan-och this week to New York during which one of his speeches was briefly interrupted by anti-government activist living in New York who was given asylum there by US authorities.
The Deputy PM praised the prime minister for getting on with his speech on Wednesday night but drew attention to the fact the activist appeared to question the legitimacy of the current Thai government and its leader.
Wissanu unclear about legal ramifications
On Friday, the deputy prime minister who oversees the government’s legal affairs Wissanu Krea-ngam, could not say whether the contract revealed between Mr Thanathorn and the US lobbying company might be illegal. ‘I don’t know, I can’t remember,’ was all he had to say.
Future Forward Party says its connection with US lobbying firm is in no way suspicious
Meanwhile, the Future Forward Party and its leader insist that the contract with APCO Worldwide was not only legal but necessary if the political leader’s trip to the United States was to be conducted effectively and in accordance with American law. They have pointed out that the lobbying firm operates as a service available to the public and that is why the contract was signed and publicly made available to any third party.
The firm APC Worldwide is led by Margery Kraus and employs 680 people in 35 countries around the world.
Denies that the contract is connected with protest acts in New York this week against the Thai leader
The contract specifies that the service being provided to the Future Forward Party leader involved activities to influence and work towards advancing the interests of Mr Thanathorn and his party with the US government, key officials and the US public. It authorised APCO Worldwide to carry out such efforts on its behalf.
However, the party this week especially denied that this entailed targeting and or creating negative PR about the current Thai government led by General Prayut Chan ocha.
Thanathorn is a figure that has generated interest in the western media for his progressive platform
The Future Forward Party leader has generated intense interest among foreign media and western countries due to his policy platform which advocates liberal, progressive ideals which have heretofore not been part of the political discussion on both sides of the political divide in Thailand.
During the trip to the United States in July, Mr Thanathorn gave interviews with national TV station NBC, Bloomberg and the Voice of America’s Thai service.
Future Forward Party of a seven-party opposition alliance – Thanathorn is suspended as an MP
At present, Future Forward is a key component of the opposition’s 7 party coalition led by Pheu Thai. Co-operation between the two parties is at a high level to such an extent that the larger party supported his candidacy as prime minister before he was suspended from his duties by the Constitutional Court over a media shareholding case currently before it having been referred by the Election Commission for a possible breach of Thailand’s strict electoral laws.
Facing criminal case decision on October 1st
Mr Thanathorn is also facing a criminal probe following a Facebook broadcast last year and is due to hear on October 1 st if charges are being pressed against him and others by the Thai Attorney’s General’s Office in that case.
Over the last few weeks, he has also been the subject of intense media scrutiny and questioning regarding loans made by him in a personal capacity to his political party.