Tuesday February 27, 5:27 PM
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s army-appointed government is piling up
graft allegations against ousted billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, but the chances of putting him behind bars remain remote,
Having cited “rampant corruption” by Thaksin and his cabinet
colleagues as the main reason for their Sept. 19 coup, the generals
ordered teams of accountants and lawyers to go out and dig up the
evidence within a year.
But after five months, the Asset Scrutiny Committee (ASC) has
come up with little beyond its own vague accusations, due mainly to a
Byzantine bureaucracy and the reluctance of officials who worked under
Thaksin to cooperate for fear of implicating themselves, analysts said.
“They are dealing with experienced politicians who have made
corruption seamless and left no evidence to trace,” said political
analyst Prayad Hongtongkhum.
“Judging from the time constraint and lack of cooperation from
other state agencies, it is almost impossible for the ASC to finish all
their probes and put the big fishes in jail.”
The committee has made progress in a dozen graft cases, but has
wrapped up only one investigation — a tax evasion case against
Thaksin’s wife and her brother.
The case was handed earlier this month to prosecutors who said they needed about a month to decide whether to bring charges.
Other probes include the purchase of 26 U.S.-made bomb scanners
at Bangkok’s new airport, which Thaksin and 21 other politicians are
accused of deliberately overpricing for their own gain.
The ASC accuses Thaksin’s wife Potjaman of underpaying for a
prime piece of Bangkok real estate she bought from the central bank.
The ASC concluded the couple broke anti-graft and criminal laws
barring spouses of cabinet ministers from business deals with state
agencies, committee members told Reuters.
If found guilty, Thaksin and Potjaman face up to 10 years in jail and confiscation of the land.
However, any trial is still months away as the ASC says it wants
to hear Thaksin’s side of the story before sending its findings to
prosecutors. He is in exile and the government says he cannot return
until after elections are held.
Thailand’s three-tier court system is also likely to give Thaksin years of freedom as he conducts multiple appeals.
“With the procedure the ASC has been given to work on and the
complex court system we have, the chance of putting Thaksin in jail is
very, very small,” political radio show host Piroon Chatwanichkul said.
Thaksin’s lawyer shrugs off the accusations.
“The ASC was set up to justify the coup which accused the
Thaksin government of widespread corruption,” Noppadon Pattama told
Reuters. The allegations were meant to boost the government’s
popularity, he said.
The ASC’s failure to bring swift action against Thaksin has led
to a sharp dip in the popularity of the post-coup administration of
interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, a former army
commander-in-chief and adviser to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Surayud’s approval rating, 70.5 percent a month after his
appointment in November, dropped to 34.8 percent this month, according
to a poll released at the weekend.
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