Sixth arrest warrant issued for Thailand's former PM Thaksin

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

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

Today, the Constitutional Court of Thailand (Supreme Court) issued the sixth arrest warrant for Thailand's deposed premier, Thaksin Shinawatra. Following on from a string of corruption charges, the latest centres on the country's telecommunications industry. The former Prime Minister was removed by a bloodless military coup in September 2006 while at the United Nations in New York. Prior to the coup the country experienced widespread unrest, demonstrations, and allegations against Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party of corruption and vote buying.

The warrant is over Thaksin's failure to appear in court on charges relating to conversion of concession payments in the country's lucrative telecoms market to excise tax during 2003; a move that is estimated to have cost the country's exchequer 40 billion baht (US$1.2 billion). The deposed PM remains in self-imposed exile in London, having been there since August. At that time he and his wife left Thailand whilst on bail related to the charges surrounding the Ratchadaphisek land purchase deal. The deal saw Thaksin's wife, Khunying Potjaman purchase what is considered a prime piece of real estate for 772 million baht ($22.7 million) at auction; this price was described as a bargain. At this point the ex-PM has not been convicted on any of the charges, although his wife, Khunying, faces a jail sentence.

Next Tuesday, will see the trial over the Ratchadaphisek land case again come before the Supreme Court—this time with a verdict possibly to be read. This could be deferred due to the defendants' absence, but a guilty verdict could see Thaksin facing jail time should he return to Thailand.

Last month, saw other warrants issued against Thaksin, in relation to the country's numbers lottery. Malfeasance allegations led to charges over the sale of two and three digit numbers during the 2001-2006 period of his time in office as Prime Minister. The trial, currently suspended by the Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office, will resume and examine further evidence in December.

The ongoing controversy surrounding Thaksin has seen calls for his diplomatic passport to be revoked. The movement for the coveted red passport to be withdrawn started in mid-September with Thai air force chief, Chalit Phukpasuk, referencing the then-outstanding warrants and widespread lack of respect for the former PM stated, "he has now fallen from grace, he no longer deserves such an honour". The general, who retired at the end of September, condemned Thaksin for failing to appear in court and defend himself. The newly appointed Foreign Minister and deputy PM has washed his hands of the diplomatic passport issue, preferring to pass this off as an issue for the Prime Minister himself. The military junta of Surayud Chulanont had revoked the passport, but this decision was revoked by the democratically elected Foreign Minister when civilian government was restored.

Adding to the public pressure on the former PM, Thailand's armed forces' supreme commander, Boonsrang Niempradit, called on the current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to ensure appropriate justice was meted out to Thaksin. Boonsrang asserted the prime minister must, "dispense justice to everyone, ensuring justice does not necessarily mean offering assistance. Sometimes, justice involves meting out punishment as well". Current PM Somchai, brother-in-law of exiled Thaksin, has his own legal worries that could see him removed from office and parliament; charges against him centre round a share scandal. His holdings in a telecoms company which does business with the state are allegedly in contravention of several constitutional articles.