July 8, 2009
Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor | July 09, 2009
Article from: The Australian
FUGITIVE billionaire former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra flew in his Learjet to Fiji for a secret meeting with the controversial prime minister and military commander Frank Bainimarama.
The subject of their discussions, held in Mr Bainimarama’s office in Suva on Monday, is unknown, but informed sources in Fiji say Mr Thaksin is considering investing $300million in the country.
In return, he would probably be assured safety there from extradition, if he should choose to use Fiji as one of his bases in exile. Thailand is seeking to return him to Bangkok, where he faces two years in jail for abuse of power.
Mr Thaksin used an assumed name to enter Fiji, although his true identity was known to the authorities, who approved his visit in advance. The Thai government has cancelled Mr Thaksin’s Thai passport, and says he is currently using a passport issued by Montenegro.
Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Thaworn Sennian, said Mr Thaksin had earlier flown to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, where he stayed en route to Fiji. Thai embassy officials immediately sought Mr Thaksin’s arrest and extradition.
“Somehow, Thaksin managed to get wind of the impending arrest and escaped,” Mr Thaworn said.
Mr Thaksin was believed to be heading next for Tonga and then to Port Vila in Vanuatu, which is tomorrow hosting the annual meeting of the heads of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries — Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.
The MSG meeting is important for Mr Bainimarama because he will not be able to attend this year’s Pacific Islands Forum summit in Cairns in August, as Fiji has been suspended from the Pacific body.
The Fiji economy is in considerable trouble, with tourism in a downward spiral globally as a result of the economic downturn, and with the other major industry, sugar, suffering from the withdrawal of subsidies from the European Union following the failure of the Fiji government to announce elections.
The major investor there this year has been Fiji’s own national provident fund, with some financially stretched smaller tourism operators seeking to exit but finding no buyers at present — thus reinforcing the attraction of Mr Thaksin’s business empire.
Mr Bainimarama’s military-installed government has said it will not hold an election until September 2014, providing Mr Thaksin with five years’ security if necessary, reinforced by the Fiji government’s control of the courts.
Mr Thaksin’s legal adviser, Noppadon Patama, said the stopover in Kuala Lumpur was merely in order to refuel the jet.
He said there was no attempt to arrest him in Malaysia. He said foreign leaders were willing to welcome Mr Thaksin because they understood the charges against him were politically motivated.
Thailand’s deputy foreign minister, Panich Vikitsreth, said extradition requests had been filed to Malaysia and to Australia, apparently in the hope Canberra could use its influence in Fiji.
But relations between Australia and Fiji have become increasingly strained, especially since Mr Bainimarama’s government in April abrogated the constitution, dismissed the judiciary, and ruled out elections for five years.
Mr Thaksin was a senior police officer who built a telecommunications empire worth billions of dollars.
He became Thailand’s prime minister from 2001 before being ousted in a military coup in September 2006, while he was attending the UN general assembly.