Monday, June 11, 2007

Ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had about US$1.5 billion in cash assets in Thailand seized today by the Assets Examination Committee.

Calling Thaksin “unusually rich,” the committee said Thaksin had obtained the money through corrupt means.

Thaksin’s spokesman and lawyer Noppadol Pattama issued a statement, saying Thaksin would “fight until the end.”

“I will bring the case to both the criminal and civil courts. This is not fair. The aim is to prevent the ex-PM and his wife from running their own normal lives,” Noppadol said, adding that the move was politically motivated.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon who headed the Shin Corp. telecommunications firm, was elected prime minister in 2001 as leader of the populist Thai Rak Thai party.

Last year, the Shinawatra family sold their interest in Shin Corp. to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, in a deal that prompted street protests in Bangkok, and was a key factor in the coup that removed Thaksin from power. Thaksin, his wife, Potjaman Shinawatra, and children, are facing charges of tax evasion as well.

The Assets Examination Committee said their decision came after months of investigation into corruption allegations made during Thaksin’s five years in office.

The committee has frozen 21 bank accounts containing 52.9 billion baht (about $1.5 billion), money the committee says was made in the Temasek deal.

“The committee found evidence that Thaksin during his time as prime minister committed corruption and illegal acts as well as being unusually rich,” the committee said in a statement. “[The Shinawatra family] have illegally obtained wealth through abuses of power to benefit Shin Corp.”

Two weeks ago, Thaksin’s former party, Thai Rak Thai, was ordered dissolved by a Constitutional Tribunal, based on corruption charges in the April 2006 general election, and Thaksin and 110 other party leaders were banned from politics for five years.

Since being removed from the premiership in the September coup last year, Thaksin has remained in voluntary exile, mainly in London, where he has tendered a bid for the Manchester City football club.

Last week, Thaksin was in Japan, guest lecturing at a Tokyo university, where he expressed a desire to return to Thailand when democracy is restored.

“When democracy returns to Thailand, Thailand will prosper again and I will go back to contribute to the country as a normal citizen,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

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