Naazneen Karmali Forbes Staff
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Thailand’s wind energy pioneer, Nopporn Suppipat, better known as “Nick”, hit the headlines this week when an arrest warrant was issued against him Tuesday by the Bangkok Military Court. Suppipat, 43, is the cofounder and chief executive of Wind Energy Holdings, Thailand’s biggest developer of wind farms, and features among the country’s richest. He debuted last June on Forbes Asia’s ranking of Thailand’s 50 Richest at Number 31 with a net worth of $800 million.
In a case that has surprised the business establishment, Suppipat is now accused of conspiring with a couple of suspected criminals to kidnap one of his creditors to whom he owed the equivalent of $4 million. The planned abduction was apparently a desperate bid to get the lender to agree to reduce the debt. Suppipat faces charges of extortion, intimidation and of violating Thailand’s strict lese majeste law that protects its monarchy. Suppipat’s case is a fallout of an anti-corruption drive that has ensnared top police officers including the head of the Central Investigation Bureau.
When the suspects surrendered over the weekend, the arm of the law closed in on the man who allegedly hired them. To evade arrest, Suppipat is believed to have fled the country and according to some reports, has escaped to Cambodia. A banker I approached declined to comment saying that the matter was “sensitive”.
Nopporn Suppipat: on the lam
Nopporn Suppipat: on the lamThe son of dentists, US-educated Suppipat earned a spot among Thailand’s wealthiest when he inked a deal to sell a minority stake in his privately-held Wind Energy that valued the firm at $1.2 billion. He’s the majority owner with a 65% holding along with his business partner Pradej Kitti-itsaranon who owns 24%.
When I met Suppipat earlier this year, he was dreaming of expanding overseas by listing Wind Energy at a valuation that he hoped would be in the region of $3 billion. Renewable energy firms had caught the fancy of investors and Suppipat was keen to cash in on the trend. Before he hit the green sweet spot, Suppipat had made and lost money twice, first in conventional energy then in magazine publishing.
His move into wind power, Suppipat told me, was a hugely risky one back in 2005 as the country was considered to be poor in wind resources. But Suppipat hired an American consultancy firm to do a detailed study and concluded that the naysayers were wrong. His bet:“ If you’re the first mover you can get an outsize return and that becomes your ammunition.” While Suppipat had claimed that Wind Energy was profitable, that ammo apparently proved to be inadequate.