Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Former Premier’s Wife Arrested on Return to Thailand


January 9, 2008

BANGKOK — The wife of the ousted Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, returned from exile Tuesday to face charges of corruption and an uncertain future for her family and its political allies.

The wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, was met by the police soon after her flight arrived from Hong Kong and was arrested and charged with conflict of interest in a property deal and false disclosure in a company listed on the stock market. She was released on bail totaling six million baht, or $182,000, a small amount for the wife of a billionaire. She is also barred from leaving the country without court permission.

The Shinawatra family lawyer, Noppadol Pattama, told reporters that Mrs. Pojaman made the decision to return from abroad, where the couple had been living in exile, mostly in London and Hong Kong, “a couple of days ago” and that she was now ready to fight the charges against her.

“This is the proper time,” Mr. Noppadol said. “The country is back to democracy.”

Political analysts said the return of Mrs. Pojaman signaled her family’s confidence that the Thai political situation, still unsettled after a victory by Mr. Thaksin’s allies in elections last month, would turn in their favor once a new government was formed.

The political party that represents Mr. Thaksin’s interests in the country, the People Power Party, or P.P.P., won the most votes in the Dec. 23 election and claims to have reached agreements with enough coalition partners to be able to form a government. But it also faces a growing number of obstacles.

Last week, the Thai Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the party should be dissolved for serving as a proxy for Mr. Thaksin, who was banned from politics for five years after he was overthrown in a military coup on Sept. 19, 2006.

The Election Commission is also withholding final certification of the victories of more than 60 People Power Party candidates while it investigates fraud.

“We’re still in the political turmoil caused by the conflict between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin groups in society,” said Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator and a prominent political commentator.

“There are a lot of very politically powerful forces that will do anything to keep P.P.P. out of any coalition,” Mr. Jon said.

Mr. Jon called Mrs. Pojaman’s return “bold” on the part of the Shinawatra family, but speculated that “maybe some deal has been made” between the government and the family.

Mr. Noppadol, the family lawyer, said Monday that Mr. Thaksin planned to return to Thailand by mid-April and was also prepared to defend himself in court.

Mr. Thaksin faces charges in the same cases as his wife. Both cases were brought after investigations by a special committee formed by the junta that removed Mr. Thaksin from power.

Mr. Thaksin said in a prepared statement on Tuesday that in addition to fighting the charges, Mrs. Pojaman returned to attend the funeral rites of a Thai princess, Galyani Vadhana, who died last week.

The government has declared two weeks of mourning for Princess Galyani, who was the sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Concerts and other forms of entertainment have been postponed or canceled and official announcements relating to the formation of a new government have been suspended.

No comments: