Thaksin: I’m here to stay

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Shinawatra will bankroll a spending spree for new manager Eriksson

 

Wednesday July 11,2007

By Richard Tanner

 

THAKSIN Shinawatra has reassured Sven-Goran Eriksson that he will be in the directors’ box for Manchester City’s opening fixtures of the season rather than a courtroom in Thailand.

City’s new owner met Eriksson for the first time since his appointment as manager at the club’s Carrington training ground on the day he and his wife were ordered back to their home country to face corruption charges. As Eriksson prepared to pay Italian club Reggina over £8million of Shinawatra’s vast fortune to make striker Rolando Bianchi his first signing, City’s wealthy new owner was embroiled in fresh controversy.

Thailand’s supreme court has set August 14 as the first hearing for Shinawatra to face charges of corruption, conflict of interest and dereliction of duty for personal gain in a land deal.

The former Thai prime minister has protested he is innocent of all charges, but is steadfastly refusing to return to the Far East while the military junta that ousted him is still in power because he fears he will not be given a fair trial.

His Bangkok attorney, Noppadol Pattama, said: “I fear that my client will not get a fair trial because the judicial
system in Thailand has been interfered with by some powerful groups – and I also fear for his safety.”

Shinawatra says the constant raft of accusations and charges levelled against him are part of a concerted smear campaign by the military generals who have tried to dismantle his business and political empires. After the bloodless coup last year, the military-appointed government set up the Assets Examination Committee, a team of graft investigators, and the 2003 land deal is one of many cases they have examined.

The junta has dissolved his Thai Rak Thai Party, which won two landslide election victories, because of electoral law violations last year.

Shinawatra, who became a billionaire in the telecommunications sector before entering politics and serving as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, was overthrown following demonstrations calling for him to step down because of alleged corruption and abuse of power. A Thai arrest warrant would not make Shinawatra liable to be held because he is living in exile in London.

If he and his wife fail to appear in court, though, Thailand could start extradition proceedings, but it is usually a complicated diplomatic and legal procedure, and Britain would refuse to agree to such a move in a case where there are strong political overtones.

However, his mounting problems at home did not appear to worry Shinawatra yesterday as he met new boss Eriksson, the City players and the training-ground staff to outline his vision for the future of the club and assure them he will be very much a “hands-on” owner.

Eriksson has already insisted he is “not concerned” about the allegations faced by City’s new owner and is just concentrating on signing the new players he needs to guide the club into the Premier League’s top six.

The first of those could be hotshot Bianchi. His agent will arrive today to discuss a deal with Eriksson as City played down claims from Reggina that an £8.8m fee had already been agreed.

Reggina president Pasquale Foti said: “We have reached a preliminary agreement with Manchester City for the
permanent transfer of Roland Bianchi in an £8.8m transfer deal. It will be completed by Wednesday.” City say that is premature but did confirm their strong interest in the player.

After confirming compatriots Hans Backe and Tord Grip as his backroom lieutenants, Eriksson is now taking the City squad to Sweden as they step up their preparations for the new season.

Following their opening pre-season friendly at Doncaster on Saturday, they will play Orgryte on Wednesday before facing Carlstad United three days later. They then return to Britain to open Shrewsbury’s new stadium on August 1. Shinawatra has promised to be present when City officially launch their new era with a home tie against as yet unnamed European opposition at the City of Manchester Stadium on August 4.

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