Two WSJ stories: New ASEAN hoops league, and NK weapons crew


Two Thailand-related stories that I was too busy to post on Fri., but which I wanted to point out:

WSJ: “Long Shot: The New Asean Basketball League Tries to Win Over the Thais.”

Sports has always had its share of lovable long shots, plucky underdogs that fans pull for despite the odds, or even because of them. Now there’s the Thailand Tigers — one of six franchises of the Asean Basketball League, currently in the final weeks of its inaugural season. (The other five teams are the Philippine Patriots, the Singapore Slingers, the Satria Muda BritAma — from North Jakarta — the Kuala Lumpur Dragons and the opponent on this Sunday afternoon last month, the Brunei Barracudas.)

The league is backed by the big money and marketing savvy of founder Tony Fernandes, chief executive of budget carrier Air Asia, but it’s clear that the Tigers’ attempt to create a mass fan base is going to be no slam dunk.

“After all, this is the first entirely professional sports franchise in the history of Thailand,” proudly declares the Tigers’ 47-year-old owner, Wim Reijnen, adding that even the Thai soccer league has been semipro — that is, with rosters that mix pros and amateurs. He doesn’t care to divulge, though, just how much his players are paid.

A basketball aficionado since fellow Dutchman Rik Smits made it to the National Basketball Association in the U.S. in 1988, Mr. Reijnen says he’s long wanted to turn his performer-management experience to the realm of sports. In addition to picking the team name and colors and hiring and firing his first coach, he’s learned to cheer from the team bench “just like Mark Cuban” — the owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, who is known for his outrageous behavior and emotional outbursts.

(I love a good Rik Smits reference.)

I also enjoyed this:

It’s hard to find any basketball courts in the Thai countryside,” says American Ben Tamte, a hoops aficionado who teaches in Thailand.

And this:

“Still, Tigers’ owner Mr. Reijnen remains optimistic about the league and his underdog effort. “With more youth-development projects, basketball can only grow,” he says. “I think the nonstop action of an indoor sport where you sit in air-conditioning appeals to the people here. And now every young player in the country has a goal to shoot for” — in becoming a professional basketball player.

(Related satirical Onion story about Thai sports: “Just give me the damn sepak takraw ball.” Insert joke about Mae Hong Son Water Lillies here.)

In other news, the WSJ this story: “Thailand drops charges in weapons case“:

Thai officials dropped charges against the crew of a plane filled with illegal North Korean weapons detained in December at Bangkok’s international airport.

Prosecutors said they were responding to requests by the five crew members’ home countries, Belarus and Kazakhstan, to hand the cases over to potentially be tried in their own courts. Thai authorities said the men should be released soon, pending completion of procedural requirements, then deported.

Although rumored for days, the announcement surprised some weapons experts, who are puzzling over unanswered questions from the case and were hoping Thai authorities would hold the men longer, or at least until more details about the investigation were revealed. Thai officials have indicated the flight was headed for Iran, but it remains unclear who masterminded the arms purchase or where the arms were ultimately going to be used.

(My previous posts on the issue are here.)

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image source: WSJ.)


Two quick links: Thailand political risks and arms from North Korea

Just quickly, I wanted to point out this Reuters item from yesterday: “FACTBOX-Five political risks to watch for Thailand.” Give it a read.

Also, to follow on the issue of the plane carrying arms from North Korea, Bloomberg had this story Jan. 29 that’s worth a look: “Iran Was Destination of North Korean Arms, Thailand Reports.”


Update: Crew of N. Korean arms plane to be held until Feb. 11, Bangkok Post says

An update to my previous post: The Bangkok Post is now saying this:

The prosecution on Friday deferred until Feb 11 a decision on whether to indict the five crew members of a plane which landed at Don Mueang airport with an undeclared cargo of weapons from North Korea.

It was earlier reported that the prosecutors might drop charges against pilot Mikhail Petukhou, 54, from Belarus, and Alexandr Zrybnev, 53, Ciktor Abdullayev, 58, Vitaliy Shumkov, 54, and Ilyas Issakov, 53, from Kazakhstan for illegal arms possession, carrying weapons without permission, illegally bringing them into Thailand and failing to inform authorities of the items.

Kayasit Pissawanprakan, chief of the Criminal Litigation Office, said the prosecution could not yet decide whether they should be arraigned. There were still a large number of documents to be examined.

The prosecution, therefore, deferred the decision until Feb 11 and sought court permission to detain the five suspects for another 12 days at the Bangkok Remand Prison, he said.

(Emphasis mine.)


Bangkok Post: Crew of North Korean arms plane to be released today?


Today’s Bangkok Post, citing an anonymous source, has this story: “Korea arms plane crew ‘to go free.’

The first two graphs:

Prosecutors have decided to drop charges against five suspects found last month with 35 tonnes of weapons on a plane from North Korea, a source close to the case has revealed.

The source did not elaborate yesterday on the reasons leading to the prosecutors’ decision, which will be announced today.

Previous posts on this topic are here.

(Photo at right: four of the rive crew. Image source: Bangkok Post)


Cargo plane seizure: N. Korean arms heading to Iran?

An update on the ongoing story about the cargo plane full of North Korean weapons that was recently seized here in Bangkok.

Here are two WSJ stories that highlight a couple of developments.

  • First, from Dec. 21, a piece about signs pointing to Iran as a possible destination for the arms.
  • And second, a Dec. 22 story with info on links between the plane and a company in Hong Kong.