* The Crowning Fortune

By Susan J. Cunningham
Forbes Asia

The king of Thailand controls vast wealth. Just how vast wasn’t clear, until some sleuthing by a Bangkok academic and some new openness by the monarchy’s investment arm.

The Thai monarchy’s family fortune has always been shrouded in secrecy. Last year FORBES ASIA valued it at a conservative $5 billion. Other estimates have put it at $8 billion. But this year–using an exhaustive academic study of the monarchy’s investment arm, the Crown Property Bureau–FORBES ASIA now values the fortune at at $35 billion. This new estimate easily puts King Bhumibol Adulyadej atop our annual list of the world’s richest royals. Last year we ranked him fifth.

The bulk of the bureau’s assets lies in its vast real estate holdings, which make it the country’s largest landowner and include roughly one-third of Bangkok’s central business district. The bureau also holds a 30% stake in the Siam Cement Group and a 25% share of Siam Commercial Bank . The bureau granted an economic historian who is writing a history of the bureau, Porphant Ouyyanont, unprecedented access to its files in 2005. His paper, which was published in the U.K.’s Journal of Contemporary Asia in February, pegged the value of the bureau’s assets at $27.4 billion as of the end of 2005. Since then the assets and the baht have appreciated (though the baht has fallen recently). “Sure, [the estimate] is enormous, but it’s reasonable,” he says. “We know the price of land. We know [the market] capitalization [of the companies].” An adviser to the bureau, Aviruth Wongbuddhapitak, said by e-mail that “generally, there is no major inaccuracy” in Porphant’s paper. … more

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