King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand, who has previously been criticised for living a life of extreme luxury while his subjects deal with the coronavirus pandemic and crumbling economy, has found himself in the midst of another embarrassing controversy.

According to a report in local media publication Secret Siam, a Boeing 737 painted in the colours of Thai Airways has become a garden ornament at the monarch's residence, Amphorn Sathan Palace complex, in Bangkok. The aircraft was placed in the garden somewhere between the second half of 2019 to February 2020, but space had been cleared for it beforehand, which means the process began just weeks after Vajiralongkorn's coronation in May 2019.

Satellite images show that the aircraft is surrounded by pathways and a manicured garden. The outlet has also obtained an image from within the palace grounds showing the plane being brought inside, and another image clicked a few months later with the plane placed on an immaculate lawn.

The aircraft seems to a part of the King's grand plans to transform the royal district, under which the royal household has also reclaimed the land from several institutions including the Parliament House complex, forcing them to relocate. Extensive renovations are being carried out at the sprawling palace complex ever since the 68-year-old acceded to the throne after the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016.

The report of the monarch using an aircraft as a garden decoration comes at a time when rumours are on the rise on social media and in private chats that he is severely ill, and a few sensational gossip reports even claim that he is dying or dead. However, multiple sources have denied the reports to the outlet, noting that the King has been in the hospital for the past few days but is in a stable condition.

The monarch was first admitted to Bangkok Hospital earlier this month, but later transferred to an intensive care unit at Siriraj Hospital after his condition deteriorated. He has been facing respiratory issues, but there has been no suggestion that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

It's also possible that he has already recovered and left the hospital, as people who went to look around the hospital over the past couple of days didn't see any sign of increased security. The report also notes that there would have been increased activity in the royal household, and the heir to the throne- Prince Dipangkorn, would have returned from Germany, if there were chances that the King is on the verge of death.

Rumours about Vajiralongkorn's health have been persistent in the media even before his coronation as the King of Thailand in 2019. A secret US cable from 2009, published by WikiLeaks, claimed: "Vajiralongkorn is believed to be suffering from a blood-related medical condition (varying sources claim he is either: HIV positive; has Hepatitis C; is afflicted by a rare form of "blood cancer," or some combination which leads to regular blood transfusions)."

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida greet supporters as they leave the palace Photo: AFP / Jack TAYLOR