Thailand's fugitive ex-PM sentenced to two years for corruption

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

File photo of Thaksin Shinawatra from 2005
Image: Helene C. Stikkel (US DoD).

Ousted, and a fugitive seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom, Thailand's ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra now faces a two year jail sentence if, or when, he returns to the country. The Thai Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption in a 5-4 ruling by the Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions section of the court and issued the sentence over a land deal. The court acquitted his wife who was the purchaser of the land. The contentious package of land was taken over by Thailand's Financial Institutions Development Fund (FIDF) in 1995, following the collapse of the Erawan Trust in an effort to counter the trust's losses.

In reading the court's verdict, one judge stated, "Thaksin violated the article of the constitution on conflict of interest, as he was then prime minister and head of government, and was supposed to work for the benefit of the public, ... He is sentenced to two years in jail."

Despite his wife, Potjaman Shinawatra, having escaped sentencing in the Ratchadaphisek land deal case, she still faces jail time on return to Thailand. During July she was convicted of tax evasion and a warrant is outstanding for her to face three years in jail for that conviction. The Ratchadaphisek case centred around approximately thirteen acres of land in central Bangkok that was sold to her in 2003 for a knock-down price of 772 million baht (US$ 22.5 million).

With the law in Thailand barring ministers and their partners from doing business with government agencies, groups who protested for the removal of Thaksin are pleased with the result. People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters were reportedly shouting, "We've won!" at the announcement of the verdict. They had watched a live telecast of the court's ruling, hailing activist Veera Somkwamkid who filed the case as a hero.

Should the government more actively pursue Thaksin's extradition from the UK?

Somchai Wongsawat, the country's current Prime Minister and Thaksin's brother-in-law, has given assurances that the current government will not interfere in the court's ruling. In speaking to journalists after the ruling was handed down he stressed that the case only covered violation of the National Counter Commission Act barring government officials from involvement where they may have oversight. This was seen as the reason for Thaksin's wife, Potjaman escaping prosecution in this case.

The case's chief prosecutor has called on Britain to speedily extradite ex-PM Thaksin so he may begin his jail term. A number of other warrants for his arrest remain outstanding from additional cases brought over his time in office.