BERLIN — A plane being used by Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has been impounded in Germany as part of a long-running battle with the Thai government over payments for a building project in Thailand, officials said Wednesday.
The Boeing 737 "Royal Flight" was seized on a court order, and is now being kept at Munich airport, said Robert Wilhelm, a spokesman for the airport.
Vajiralongkorn, the heir to the Thai throne, is an experienced pilot and a frequent visitor to Germany, putting him in the middle of a long-running business dispute between the two countries.
A spokesman for the bankruptcy administrator of German construction firm Walter Bau AG said the plane was seized Tuesday because of the Thai government's refusal to pay euro30 million ($42 million) it owes the company.
The Thai government owes the now-bankrupt builder the money under a contract agreed to more than 20 years ago to build and operate a toll highway to Bangkok's Don Muang airport, Alexander Goerbing said.
The "drastic measure" of seizing the Royal Thai Air Force's plane amounts to "the last resort" to secure the payment, a claim that courts and a ruling by an international arbitration panel in 2009 have declared legitimate, he added.
The Crown Prince regularly uses the state-owned plane, and the German bankruptcy administrator apparently had been working for some time to get it impounded.
Germany's Foreign Ministry said "we regret the inconveniences for the Crown Prince resulting from the impounding." The ministry did not elaborate.
Government planes usually have diplomatic status – making them mostly off-limit to the judiciary of foreign countries – but that only holds when they are traveling on official purpose, not private trips.
"The search for the plane was very complicated and of course had to be carried out in a discreet manner to avoid giving any warnings," the administrator, Werner Schneider, said in a statement.
Vajiralongkorn, 58, is the designated heir to the Thai throne, now held by his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is in poor health.
The 83-year-old is revered by most Thais for his dedication to public service, but Vajiralongkorn has not yet had a chance to earn the same level of respect. A qualified military pilot with the Air Force rank of Air Chief Marshal, in recent years he has also learned to pilot civilian craft. However, his personal life, which includes three marriages, is sometimes the subject of gossip.
Wilhelm, the Munich airport spokesman, said the Crown Prince had traveled to the southern German city aboard the Boeing 737, but there was no immediate word on his current whereabouts. The Thai embassy in Berlin could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Crown Prince's plane stood idle on the airport grounds Wednesday, with photos showing the court order "against the Kingdom of Thailand represented by the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva" affixed to the plane's door, forbidding "any change, use or reduction of the (plane's) value."
In an unrelated case, Schneider's office in 2005 used a court order to impound a plane.