Thaksin Man City purchase is business, but it may help him politically at home

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: July 7, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand: Deposed Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra’s purchase of an English Premier League soccer team was a
business deal that may also help him politically in Thailand, analysts
said Saturday.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless military coup last Sept. 19,
announced Friday he gained effective control of Manchester City through
his company UK Sports Investments Limited to become its new chairman.

Analysts said the takeover shows Thaksin is first and foremost a businessman.

“It reveals who Thaksin really is, a businessman. It’s all about
money, and family and investments,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political
scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University said.

Politics was about business for Thaksin, Thitinan said, adding his wealth tripled during his years as prime minister, 2001-2006

“For Thaksin business comes first. Politics was good business, now English football is good business.”

Chaturon Chaisaeng, who took over Thaksin’s now-defunct Thai Rak Thai party called the purchase a personal business matter.

“It’s his recreational activity. If he likes sports and wants to invest in the business, it’s his personal matter,” he said.

Chaturon called “baseless” the suggestion Thaksin bought the team
for political reasons, as some critics suggested when he first bid for
the team in June. Critics said the purchase would keep Thaksin in the
spotlight at home and help his political ambitions to return to power.

Former senator and democracy activist Jon Ungphakorn said Thaksin
may make use of the Man City purchase politically, but it was first and
foremost a business deal.

“It’s his own business. I don’t think that it’s something to make such a commotion about,” he said.

But he added that if it turns out he used money he gained through corruption to buy the team “it becomes a concern.”

Thai Finance Minister Chalongphob Sussangkarn said last month after
Thaksin made his bid to buy Manchester City, that an anti-graft penal
may investigate the source of the funds if he were to buy it.

Thaksin — a billionaire who made his fortune in telecommunications
before serving as prime minister — lives in exile in London but
frequently makes trips to Asia.

The Man City deal was sealed only a few days after the Thai
government froze an additional 2.68 billion baht (US$84 million; €62
million) in assets believed to be controlled by Thaksin, who has been
accused of corruption.

Thailand has now frozen more than 73.23 billion baht (US$2.3
billion; €1.7 billion) in assets belonging to Thaksin and his family
because of suspicions they were obtained through corrupt means.

If the courts rule against Thaksin in cases of corruption and abuse of power, his assets could be seized by the government.

He has been given until the end of July to report to Thai police or
face a possible arrest warrant on charges related to a case of failing
to report corporate information to the Thai stock exchange.

Thaksin has said he will not return because he could not get a fair trial, and his safety would not be guaranteed.

Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on Saturday that
Thaksin should return to fight corruption cases against him and his
family.

“He should come back and fight the cases … the government will
take care of his safety,” he said, adding, “The judges were selected
through the judicial process. I don’t think it is the case that the
trials would not be fair.”

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