Friday, August 8, 2008

Thaksin asylum bid talk swirls

PRADIT RUANGDIT WICHIT CHANTANUSORNSIRI

A question mark still hangs over whether former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Khunying Potjaman will return to Thailand to face legal proceedings, with speculation rife the couple may seek asylum. They were in Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics yesterday.

It was reported that the couple may go into exile overseas to escape the legal proceedings awaiting them at home.

The couple are being tried at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions for alleged wrongdoing in the Ratchadaphisek land deal.

Two other cases against Mr Thaksin _ the lottery case and the Exim Bank loan to Burma _ are pending in the same court.

Five other cases against Mr Thaksin and his cronies are with the Office of the Attorney-General.

On July 31, the Criminal Court found Khunying Potjaman guilty of conspiring to evade tax totalling 546 million baht in the transfer of shares in the Shinawatra Computer and Communication company. She was sentenced to three years in jail and was later released on bail.

Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee, one of the couple's closest aides, said he talked with people in close contact with Mr Thaksin about rumours the couple would seek political asylum, but the truth has yet to be established.

''Some denied the rumour, others confirmed it,'' Mr Surapong said.

Arisman Pongruangrong, a former Thai Rak Thai MP, said Mr Thaksin and Khunying Potjaman will definitely return to Thailand after the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games.

They have booked seats on a flight from Beijing to Bangkok tomorrow, Mr Arisman said.

''His return will go according to schedule. Mr Thaksin confirmed that he will come back to fight all the cases in Thailand. He has never thought of seeking asylum as has been rumoured,'' said Mr Arisman.

A source at the Supreme Court said if the couple fail to turn up on Monday to report to a panel of judges handling the Ratchadaphisek land case, the judges may issue arrest warrants for them and may conduct the trial of the couple in absentia.

''Actually, the defendants' testimonies have no bearing on the trial. The defendants have denied the allegations all along. It depends on the evidence,'' the source said.

Meanwhile, Sakda Khongphet, a leader of the Isan Pattana faction of the People Power party (PPP), said he will give evidence showing misconduct by top people in the party to the National Counter Corruption Commission.

The Isan Pattana group has exposed the rise of the so-called ''gang of four'' within the PPP, whom it has accused of trying to dominate the party and cashing in on state projects to prepare for the next election.

The gang is believed to comprise Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, his secretary-general Theerapol Nopparampa, Dr Surapong and Newin Chidchob, a veteran MP who controls a large PPP faction of northeastern MPs.

The Isan Pattana faction claims the gang of four, guided by Mr Newin, is planning to form a coalition government with the Democrats if the PPP is dissolved.

''He [Mr Thaksin] told me that he has been aware of the movements of the gang of four and he said he felt hurt,'' Mr Sakda said.

However, Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban denied any knowledge of the plan.

A PPP source said Mr Thaksin sent his younger sister, Yingluck, to talk to Mr Newin and his group of MPs during a meeting of the party's northeastern MPs led by Mr Newin on Thursday.

The group is called ''Newin's friends''.

Maha Sarakham MP Suthin Klangsaeng, a member of the group, said Ms Yingluck explained that Mr Thaksin had nothing to do with the moves of the Isan Pattana group

No comments: