Thailand seeks to retrieve Crown Prince's plane

AP News
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Posted: Jul 15, 2011 7:38 AM
Thailand seeks to retrieve Crown Prince's plane

Thailand's foreign minister was visiting Germany Friday in a bid to retrieve a plane used by the Crown Prince that was impounded earlier this week in a long-running commercial dispute.

Kasit Piromya requested a meeting Thursday and will discuss the matter with German deputy foreign minister Cornelia Pieper Friday, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is currently in Mexico.

The Boeing 737 "Royal Flight" was seized in Germany on Tuesday as part of a long-running court battle over payments between a German construction company and the Thai government. The company maintains the plane belongs to the government. Thailand, however, says it is the property of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, and therefore can not be impounded in the commercial dispute.

The bankruptcy administrator of German construction firm Walter Bau AG said this week the plane was seized at Munich airport on court order because of the Thai government's refusal to pay euro30 million ($42 million) it owes the company under a contract agreed to more than 20 years ago to build and operate a toll highway in Thailand.

A spokesman for the firm, Alexander Goerbing, maintained Friday that the plane was a legitimate target because aviation registries showed it as the property of the Thai government.

"We got this impounding order based on an excerpt from an aviation registry saying that the plane belonged to the government," he said. "The court viewed those documents as being valid."

Germany's Foreign Ministry said the government could not comment on the ownership of the plane.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said the embassy in Bangkok had previously contacted Thai authorities over the long-running commercial dispute, and the German government respects the decision to impound the plane made by the independent judiciary.

Deputy minister Pieper "will have polite, friendly and dedicated talks" with her Thai counterpart, he added.

The Boeing 737 has sat idle at Munich airport since Tuesday, with photos showing the court order "against the Kingdom of Thailand represented by the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva" affixed to its door.

Government planes usually have diplomatic status _ making them mostly off-limit to the judiciary of foreign countries _ but that only holds when they are traveling on official purpose, not private trips. Vajiralongkorn is a frequent visitor to Germany.

Vajiralongkorn, 58, is the designated heir to the Thai throne, now held by his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is in poor health.

The 83-year-old is revered by most Thais for his dedication to public service, but Vajiralongkorn has not yet had a chance to earn the same level of respect. A qualified military pilot with the Air Force rank of Air Chief Marshal, in recent years he has also learned to pilot civilian craft.