Monday, August 11, 2008

Thailand's ex-prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and wife jump bail

They had received permission to attend the Beijing Olympics while facing corruption charges. But instead of returning to Thailand, they go into exile in Britain.

By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 12, 2008

JAKARTA, INDONESIA -- A former Thai leader and his wife jumped bail Monday and returned to exile in Britain, escaping prosecution on corruption charges.

In a statement read on Thai television, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said from London that unnamed political opponents were out to get him and that he was the victim of "judicial interference."

"What happened to me and my family and my close relations resulted from efforts to get rid of me from politics," Thaksin said. "These are my political enemies. They don't care about the rule of law, facts or internationally recognized due process."

A Thai court allowed Thaksin and his wife to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing, but they failed to return as scheduled Sunday night and missed a Monday morning court appearance.

A statement from the court said it would confiscate bail totaling more than $385,000 that was posted by the billionaire and his wife, Potjaman Shinawatra. The court also issued warrants for their arrest.

Thaksin's wife had returned from self-exile in London in January. She was recently convicted of tax fraud, sentenced to three years in jail and was released on bail pending an appeal. Thaksin, who had spent 17 months in exile, followed her back to Thailand in February to face charges that he helped her get a sweetheart deal on prime land in Bangkok while he was in power.

In separate cases, he faces corruption charges stemming from alleged irregularities in a state-run lottery created to fund education, and in a $120-million loan to neighboring Myanmar, also know as Burma, by Thailand's Export-Import Bank.

For the moment, Thaksin's departure is expected to defuse political tensions that had mounted as the government, widely seen as his proxy, faced down opposition protesters.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a Thaksin ally and popular television chef elected in January after the ruling junta kept a promise to restore democracy, is accused by opponents of mismanaging the economy and a Muslim insurgency in the south.

Popular among Thailand's rural poor, Thaksin won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005. The military overthrew him in a bloodless coup in 2006. It banned his Thai Rak Thai, or Thais Love Thais, party and filed corruption charges against him.

Thaksin said in his statement Monday that his life was at risk in Thailand and that he would remain in Britain, "where democracy is more important."

"I receive information and hints about attempts to assassinate me all the time," he said.

Thaksin apologized to the court and fellow Thais and left open the possibility that he might again try to return to his homeland.

"If I am fortunate enough," he said, "I will return and die on Thai soil, just like other Thais."

paul.watson@latimes.com

No comments: