Following the military coup in Thailand, hundreds of troops have surrounded the offices of companies associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s family, including Shin Tower I, headquarters of the country’s mobile market leader Advanced Info Services (AIS). The Bangkok Post reports that the company gave employees the day off yesterday because they were unable to enter the building. AIS’ president Wichian Mektrakarn said the company had temporarily put its network on an ‘automatic run’, instead of it being controlled and monitored by engineers as usual, but added that workers would resume as usual today. A senior executive of AIS’ parent group Shin Corp voiced concern that if the troops kept blocking staff entry to the tower, technical breakdowns could occur.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, on 23 January 2006 AIS effectively fell into foreign hands as the Shinawatra family sold its 49.59% stake in conglomerate Shin Corp to the government of Singapore’s investment arm Temasek Holdings for THB73.3 billion (USD1.9 billion). Shin Corp owns a 42.9% stake in AIS, and Temasek controls Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), which already owned 21.4% of AIS. The transaction stoked up fierce public resentment towards the Shinawatra clan for offloading Thai-owned assets to an overseas government, with action groups calling for a boycott of Shin’s subsidiaries, including AIS, and the cellco’s customer take-up temporarily suffered a slowdown in the months following the deal. After a mandatory offer for the remaining shares in Shin Corp, Temasek gained control of 96.12% of the group. Under Stock Exchange of Thailand regulations, listed companies must maintain a free float of at least 15%, but Temasek was given time to meet the requirement, revealing plans to unload some of Shin’s stock to Thai funds. Temasek’s shares in Shin Corp are held through a nominee structure to keep direct foreign shareholdings below the 49% legal limit, but the group is the subject of an ongoing investigation by Thai authorities as part of a move to tighten up the interpretation of the country’s foreign ownership law. Number two player in the mobile market DTAC, partly owned by Telenor of Norway, has come under similar scrutiny.