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Thai Debt Auction: "We are not running a raffle"

Many of Bangkok's drivers owned riches beyond their wildest dreams - and never even knew about it. Mercedes, houses and even whole companies were in the names of lowly drivers as nominees for their bosses. As Thai authorities now grapple with the black hole of debt which engulfed the country, recovering the massive loans - many made to friends or relatives - is not proving as easy as hoped.

"Some of these drivers even have better credit than myself," jokes Montri Chenvidyakarn, acting secretary-general of the Financial Sector Restructuring Authority (FRA), the body set up to sort out the assets of the 56 defunct finance companies closed down by the government last year. Its December auction of 45 tranches of business loans with a total face value of Bt371 billion ($10.6 billion) was billed as the world's largest ever one-day auction, but just 12 bids, all massively discounted, were received for 39 tranches, and only a portion of the assets were eventually sold.

Montri put on a brave face and insisted the auction went better than expected given the fire sales elsewhere in the region, but the general mood among commentators was that the FRA was disappointed, and indeed it rejected bids for all but nine lots, with a total outstanding face value of Bt31.756

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