Thai court orders assets seized from ex-PM Thaksin
BANGKOK (AP) – Thailand’s highest court ruled Friday that ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra abused his power to enrich himself and his family while in office and ordered that $1.4 billion of his telecommunications fortune be seized.
The ruling likely disappoints, if not angers, Thaksin’s millions of partisans, boding ill for mending the rifts in Thai society after four years of political unrest centered around him.
However, some analysts suggested the court’s decision not to seize all 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) at stake was a compromise that could foster reconciliation.
Thaksin was deposed by a September 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The action was meant to quell tensions sparked by months of anti-Thaksin protests, but instead polarized the country.
“The conflict won’t go away immediately. This verdict will simply allow the Thai people to cautiously carry on their lives the same way they have for the past two years,” said Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law professor at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. “I think we need to wait until the next general election to learn if the conflict will end.”
The country had increased security leading up to the verdict, but no major violent reaction was immediately reported. Thaksin, speaking by video link from exile, told his supporters to continue to fight for what he terms justice and democracy, but to do so nonviolently.
The passions Thaksin sparked led to the occupation of the seat of government for several months and seizure of the capital’s two airports for a week by his opponents in 2008, and rioting and disruption of a conference of Asian heads of government by his supporters last year.
His so-called Red Shirt supporters continue to rally on his behalf, and have promised a “million-man march” for next month. They seek to force the government of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a Thaksin opponent, to call new elections.
Thaksin and his followers insist he was ousted because Thailand’s traditional ruling class – the military, the bureaucracy and circles close the royal palace – felt threatened by his political popularity. He and his party won two sweeping election victories based on populist policies that benefited the country’s poor rural majority.
Speaking Friday night, Thaksin told his followers that unless they continued to struggle, “the country will remains in the hands of the elite forever.”
He also insisted, with a vow that he be struck dead if he were lying, that he never committed a corrupt act.
The Supreme Court ruled that in four of five cases presented to it, the 60-year-old billionaire politician had used his authority as the country’s leader in 2001-2006 to implement policies that benefited him, sometimes at the expense of the state.
As a small consolation, the court said that only 46 billion baht ($1.4 billion) of 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) of his family’s assets that were frozen in Thai accounts after the coup should be seized. With other cases pending against him and his family, it is unclear when the remainder might be released. An unknown amount of Thaksin’s fortune is banked overseas.
The Supreme Court said seizing all the assets “would be unfair as some of it was made before Thaksin became prime minister.”
The most straightforward case of what is termed “policy corruption” involved a US$127 million low-interest government loan to Myanmar in 2004, which the court ruled Thaksin had promoted with the intention of securing its purchase of satellite services from Shin Satellite, then controlled by Thaksin’s family.
The other rulings charged that telecommunications policies had resulted in benefits for companies he controlled.
“Had they ordered to seize all assets, people would think Thaksin was not being treated fairly,” said law professor Prinya. “Now the friction has decreased, but we still need to watch Thaksin’s next move.”
Audio of the judges reading the 7 1/2 hour verdict was broadcast on several local television stations. Hundreds of people gathered at the headquarters of the opposition Puea Thai party – allied to Thaksin – booed as the final judgments were read. Some women began crying and one man jumped up on a chair and started screaming at a television screen broadcasting the proceedings.
“There is no justice in Thailand anymore,” said Krongtong Phuengsang, a 65-year-old housewife. “The Red Shirt people will continue fighting. But we will not create violence.”
Some chanted “Thaksin fight, fight” while others cursed the court.
Thaksin struck a familiar mix of self-pity and defiance in his video address from Dubai, his home in exile.
“Today’s lesson for businessmen, do not enter politics. If something happens, they will confiscate your money, “he said. “Let me be the last victim.” He was convicted in absentia in 2008 for a conflict of interest violation and sentenced to two years imprisonment.
Suriyasai Katasila, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy movement that has spearheaded protests against Thaksin since 2006, expressed satisfaction with the court’s decisions.
“I don’t think the amount of assets to be seized is more significant than Thaksin’s wrongdoing being dissected and explained to the people.” he said. “This verdict will set up standards for future governments and politicians by letting them know the outcomes of abuse of power.”
Thanet Charoenmuang, a political science lecturer at Chiang Mai University, said he felt the verdict “eases worries among the public and could easily win the hearts of those in the middle.” He said it “could be viewed as an attempt at compromise by the judges who considered Thaksin’s actions unlawful.”
“The path to peace in Thai society depends on three things: the Red Shirts’ movement, economic and social circumstances and the government’s sincerity in solving the political conflict,” he said.