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Thaksin: The World's Newest International Fugitive

Thaksin Is The World's Newest International Fugitive


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The world's newest international fugitive from arrest is a wealthy, square-faced man with a PhD. in criminal justice from a university in Texas, and a former hand-holding ally of U.S. President George W. Bush.

But Thailand's ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a bloodless September 2006 coup, blithely strolled the streets of Surrey, England, shopping with his family this week after dodging Bangkok's supreme court.

Seeing Thaksin and his family in Surrey, prompted a local Web site, getsurrey.co.uk, to stress he "is not the first wanted international leader" to appear in their neighborhood.

"Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet holed-up in a mansion near Egham as he awaited extradition to his home country, to answer human rights abuse charges," it said.

Bangkok's attorney general, meanwhile, was considering a seizure of Thaksin's frozen assets -- worth an estimated two billion U.S. dollars.

Thaksin's enemies suspect he and his wife will apply for asylum in England where he owns Manchester City Football Club.

That could complicate a possible future extradition request.

"Extradition is a very sensitive international legal issue, so it will require close consultation [with London]," Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag told reporters, leaving open a possible request.

Britain and this Buddhist-majority, Southeast Asian nation have an extradition treaty dating back to 1911.

"There were attempts to take my life followed by a coup," Thaksin said in a fax to reporters on Tuesday (August 12), explaining his "decision not to report to the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions."

He was apparently referring to a discovery in August, 2006 -- one month before the coup -- of a potential car bomb parked near his Bangkok home, despite a later inconclusive investigation.

"After that, people who were my opponents were appointed to specially handle legal cases against myself, and my family, and to draft a constitution to prolong the authority of dictatorship," Thaksin wrote, describing the coup's military leaders and their many shrill collaborators among Thailand's political, academic, media and business communities.

"Although I am not a perfect man, I can assure you that I am not as bad as has been alleged."

When Thaksin and his financially-savvy wife, Pojaman, failed to show up at a Supreme Court hearing on Monday (August 11) and instead flew to England, the court issued two arrest warrants.

The warrants reportedly began circulating on Thursday (August 14) after distribution by the Royal Thai Police.

Thaksin and his relatives face a slew of cases, including:

  • He and Pojaman are on trial for her 2003 purchase of government real estate at a price allegedly lowered because Thaksin was prime minister at the time. They failed to appear on Monday (August 11), forfeiting about 400,000 U.S. dollars in bail.
  • Thaksin and several of his former government ministers face the Supreme Court for creating a government-run, public lottery scheme.
  • The Supreme Court also accepted a case charging him with profiting from a 2004 Thai government loan, through Thai Exim Bank, to Burma's military regime.
  • Thaksin's wife and her brother were recently sentenced to three years in prison, and her secretary given two years in jail, for tax evasion. Pojaman is currently out on bail, seeking a final appeal.

All of the accused have repeatedly denied committing any crimes.

In June 2006 -- three months before the coup -- Thaksin wrote a distraught, 544-word letter to President Bush, warning a "threat to democracy in Thailand" had been unleashed by Thaksin's opponents who were plotting "extra-constitutional tactics to co-opt the will of the people."

Bush replied to Thaksin on July 3 by saying in part: "Free and open political systems can be unpredictable." The two men had met earlier, when President Bush visited Bangkok in 2003 while upgrading Thailand to be a "non-NATO ally" of America.

During that trip, President Bush was photographed warmly holding hands with a grinning prime minister Thaksin, while hugging Thaksin around the shoulder with his other hand.

Thaksin liked to josh that he was a fellow Texan, just like Bush, because Thaksin received a PhD in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas during the years when he started out as a police officer, before becoming a telecommunications tycoon.

Last week, when Bush visited Bangkok en route to the Beijing Olympics, the U.S. president was hosted by Thaksin's hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

Samak won an election in December 2007, which the coup leaders allowed after smugly predicting Samak would lose.

*******************

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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