Monday, December 27, 2010

Thai court to rule on Thaksin fortune

via CAAI News Media

By Claire Truscott From: AFP February 24, 2010

THAILAND'S top court is set to rule on the fate of Thaksin Shinawatra's $US2.2 billion ($A2.48 billion) fortune, threatening fresh unrest in a country still riven by the fugitive former premier's influence.

Supreme Court judges will decide on Friday whether the government should seize Thaksin's assets from the sale of his family's telecommunications company, which were frozen after a 2006 military coup that toppled him from power.

The country's anti-graft commission says Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, became "unusually rich" by abusing his power after becoming prime minister in 2001 and must forfeit his wealth.

But the run-up to the judgment has left the country on edge, with fears that the "Red Shirt" movement with links to Thaksin could resort to violence if, as expected, the verdict does not go his way.

Up to 35,000 police and soldiers have been ordered to secure Bangkok and provinces where Thaksin is popular, while guards have been assigned to protect the nine judges dealing with the case, the government says.

"Police have increased forces in Bangkok, including setting up more checkpoints and CCTV cameras to monitor the situation," said metropolitan police spokesman Colonel Piya Utayo.

"We will not block protesters from coming to Bangkok if they protest peacefully. Police will take responsibility for security and can request help from the army."

The government has said it will invoke strict laws that put the army in charge of security if violence erupts, and that it could also impose emergency regulations that would limit movement in case of riots.

Last week police defused a bomb near the Supreme Court and a grenade exploded near government offices, leading the US, British and Australian embassies to warn their citizens to exercise caution in Bangkok.

Thaksin was ousted after months of protests over the January 2006 sale by his family of 49.6 per cent of shares in his Shin Corp telecoms giant to Singapore's Temasek group, for 73.3 billion baht ($A2.48 billion).

Protesters were angered because Thaksin's family did not pay any tax on the deal.

The funds were frozen the following year and the government is now seeking to take control of them.

Thaksin is living in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year jail term relating to the sale of land belonging to his wife that was imposed in his absence in 2008.

Several other graft charges against him remain on hold in the courts.

The twice-elected former leader still bitterly divides Thailand.

His opponents accuse him of being corrupt, dictatorial and of threatening Thailand's widely revered monarchy, while his mainly rural fans still praise his populist healthcare and poverty alleviation schemes.

The royalist "Yellow Shirts" who first hounded him out in 2006 returned to the streets to force his allies from government in late 2008, staging an economically damaging blockade of Bangkok's airports for nine days.

The pro-Thaksin Red Shirts have waged a similar campaign against the current administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, with riots at an Asian summit and in Bangkok in April 2009 leaving two people dead.

Thaksin has stoked up his supporters with frequent video and telephone speeches, while he also sparked a diplomatic row between Thailand and Cambodia in December when Phnom Penh appointed him as a government economic adviser.

The Red Shirts say they will meet this week to decide on the schedule of further protests after the verdict.

But some say Thaksin's supporters are increasingly marginalised as Abhisit's shaky coalition clings on to power with the backing of Thailand's powerful military, while Thaksin's political allies have little parliamentary support.

"Until Thaksin can create some sort of lasting change in the current Thai political scene, he will continue to be sidelined," said Thailand analyst Paul Chambers, of Heidelberg University in Germany.


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