Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane

AP News
Posted: Aug 09, 2011 1:20 PM
Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane

Thailand's former prime minister said Tuesday that a plane used by his country's crown prince that was impounded in Germany has been released after payment of a guarantee in a business dispute.

Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Thai government posted the bond pending resolution of a claim by German company Walter Bau AG related to construction of a tollway in Bangkok more than 20 years ago.

The Boeing 737 used by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn was seized after the company won an arbitration claim against the Thai government. Thailand contends the plane is the prince's personal property.

Thai Foreign Ministry official Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said a German court ordered the release of the aircraft Tuesday after the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.

He said Thailand would continue to contest the claim on the tollway dispute until a definitive court ruling. Abhisit stepped down from the prime minister's post last week after his Democrat Party lost a July general election.

A Munich airport official confirmed that German authorities on Tuesday had released the plane used by the Thai crown prince.

"It has been released, he just has to tell the airport when he would like to fly," Edgar Engert, a spokesman for the airport, told The Associated Press.

After his plane was impounded, a second B-737 registered in the prince's name and not under legal restraint was flown to Munich airport, which now hosts two royal aircraft.

"Now he can choose which one he would like to fly," Engert said.

The prince is an accomplished pilot and holds a senior air force rank.

DLA Piper, the law firm representing Thailand in the case, said the country is committed to honoring its obligations and wants to rule out premature actions against assets of it or others.

"Thailand has strong grounds for challenging the confirmation of the award," a DLA Piper lawyer, Frank Roth, said in the firm's statement. "However, if the Berlin court finally concludes that the award against the Kingdom of Thailand is enforceable, the Kingdom of Thailand has made the funds available."

The dispute over the plane has strained Thai relations with Germany, though officials in Berlin pointed out they could not interfere with the courts. Then-Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya traveled to Germany in connection with the matter, a sign of its importance to the Thai government, which tries to protect the country's monarchy.

The plane has sat at Munich airport since July 12, with photos showing a court order "against the Kingdom of Thailand represented by the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva" affixed to its door.

On July 31, a statement issued by the crown prince's office said he did not want relations between the nations to suffer, so "has granted his personal assets to be used in solving the dispute."

The government quickly responded to his announcement by saying it would pay what was necessary to free the plane.

Vajiralongkorn, 58, is the designated heir to the Thai throne, now held by his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is 83 and in poor health. The prince travels frequently to Germany.


Additional reporting by Melissa Eddy in Berlin.