A fascinating recent piece in Forbes discusses the new and palace-promoted biography of Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work. Although much of the biography apparently borders on hagiography (I have not received it from Amazon yet), there is considerable detail in it on the vast holdings of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), which normally are kept very quiet. The CPB, which as Forbes notes manages the palace’s investments, holds enormous amounts of land across Thailand, as well as stakes in many of Thailand’s biggest companies including Siam Cement and Siam Commercial Bank.
Based on available data from the CPB, Forbes has estimated that King Bhumibol is worth some $30 billion, making him by far the richest monarch in the world -- and one of the richest men in the world, period (the second-richest person in Thailand is worth about $7 billion). What’s more, unlike wealthy monarchs in Europe, Bhumibol has virtually no constraints on his assets; they are almost totally untransparent, and how any earnings from the assets are used is also pretty much unknown. Forbes suggests that the Thai palace spends about $500 million per year, about ten times that of what Britain’s royal family spends -- but even this is simply guesswork.