By Nipa Piboontanasawat and Anuchit Nguyen
Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) — Thaksin Shinawatra said he doesn’t plan a return to politics in Thailand, as the former premier returned home to face corruption charges almost 18 months after being ousted in a military coup.
“I quit politics, I have other roles to play,” Thaksin told reporters at Hong Kong airport today before leaving for Bangkok. “Enough is enough.” On the plane ride, he said he would “never ever” return to politics.
The former premier and his wife Pojamarn, who returned to Thailand last month, face charges over their involvement in purchasing land from the central bank. The junta’s failure to make the corruption charges stick, and missteps including the imposition of capital controls, allowed Thaksin’s political allies to win a December general election that restored democracy.
“The coup failed to achieve its objective of driving Thaksin from the Thai political scene,” said Michael Montesano, who specializes in Thai politics at the National University of Singapore. “He will face the charges against him in the hope he will be vindicated, and then restart his political career.”
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s People Power Party won the Dec. 23 election by pledging to bring Thaksin back from exile and follow his policies.
Supporters and Opponents
Airport authorities in Bangkok were bracing for crowds of both Thaksin supporters and opponents, who held months of public protests against his government before the military takeover.
Thousands of his supporters gathered in front of the airport’s VIP arrival hall today, some holding banners that read: “Welcome Back to the Motherland.”
“I caught a bus late last night as soon as I heard the news that Thaksin was coming back,” Thanom Srisook, 42, a rice farmer from Nakhon Ratchasima, said in an interview. “ Thaksin did so much for the poor, like the health-care program, village fund and rice intervention program. The coup made things worse. His return gives us hope that things will be much better.”
Thaksin plans to fight the corruption charges. He told reporters on the plane trip he will go to court after his arrival. “The allegation against me are empty,” he said. “I can prove my innocence easily.”
“I will follow him everywhere today,” rice farmer Thanom said, “from the airport to the supreme court.”
`Like a King’
“Thaksin has every right to come back as a Thai citizen,” said Sondhi Limthongkul, a media company owner who led months of protests against Thaksin in 2006, in a telephone interview. “But the way he is making his comeback is like a king arriving in his homeland, given the massive security.”
Thaksin has been living mainly in Hong Kong and London in self-imposed exile since the coup and bought the U.K.’s Manchester City soccer club last year.
“I am the chairman of Manchester City, I still have to go back and forth,” Thaksin said this morning in Hong Kong, adding he plans to attend the club’s home game against Tottenham Hotspur on March 16.
Thaksin said he has “mixed feelings” about his return to Thailand and is a “little bit” worried about his security. He didn’t elaborate.
“I’d like to urge all people concerned that it’s time to push the country forward,” he said en route to Bangkok. “We should not waste the time to frown at each other. There is no need, especially when I am out of politics.”
Prosecutors allege Thaksin and Pojamarn breached a law that bans a spouse from entering into a contract with a government department under the direct supervision of a partner.
Not Guilty Plea
Pojamarn allegedly purchased land from the central bank’s Financial Institutional Development Fund in 2003 for 772 million baht ($25.8 million). She pleaded not guilty on her return in January and was freed on bail.
The new government this month removed Sunai Manomaiudom from his job as director general of the Special Investigation Department. Sunai had handled a case in which Thaksin was alleged to have concealed his ownership in SC Assets Corp., a property company.
It hasn’t yet dismantled the Asset Examination Committee, an anti-graft agency that froze more than 60 billion baht of assets belonging to Thaksin and his family. The agency was set up less than a week after the Sept. 19, 2006 coup to probe Thaksin, his family and other Cabinet members.
Noppadol Pattama, a former lawyer of Thaksin’s who is now foreign affairs minister, said in December that investigations by the committee would be taken over by another agency.
Shin Corp. Sale
While Thaksin’s 5 1/2-year reign as prime minister was marked by the fastest growth in a decade, opponents attacked the 2006 tax-free sale of his mobile phone business Shin Corp. to Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings Pte.
The junta-backed government’s economic record was less successful. Currency controls imposed by the central bank in December 2006 triggered the stock market’s steepest slide in 16 years and were reversed a day later.
A government proposal to limit international control of businesses in Thailand was also withdrawn amid criticism it would deter investors.
Thaksin Returns to Thailand
By AMBIKA AHUJA – 1 hour ago
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived home Thursday after 17 months of exile, prepared to face charges but saying he had faith in Thailand’s justice system.
Thaksin flew first class on Thai Airways from Hong Kong to Bangkok, where thousands of supporters had gathered at Suvarnabhumi International Airport before dawn to await his return. They danced, beat drums, sang and carried signs reading “We love Thaksin.”
The 58-year-old billionaire politician was deposed in a September 2006 coup and had lived abroad ever since. He was expected to face arrest after arriving at the airport. He is accused of graft and abuse of power during his 2001-2006 time in office.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
HONG KONG (AP) — Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 amid corruption allegations, flew toward home from exile Thursday to face charges and vowed to stay out of politics forever.
He said he was slightly worried about his safety but expressed faith in Thailand’s justice system.
“I believe in the Thai justice system, especially the court system,” Thaksin, 58, said at Hong Kong’s airport, surrounded by about 40 supporters. His plane left Hong Kong a short while later on the final leg of his journey to Thailand.
His return was seen as a test of the country’s political stability, with critics warning that the populist billionaire’s homecoming could plunge the country into renewed crisis.
Thaksin repeated his pledge that he wouldn’t seek to regain his political post. “I’m finished,” he said.
He also played down the possibility of any upheaval, saying was little chance his return would spark violence. “The Thais are very peaceful,” Thaksin said.
Dressed in a black suit and matching tie, he was allowed to use the airport’s diplomatic entrance while passing through immigration. He smiled and appeared relaxed as he strolled through the airport with a big entourage before settling into the Thai Airway’s VIP lounge.
“The country has returned to democracy, so I want to go home … I miss my motherland,” he said Wednesday, speaking to Thai Public Broadcasting Service television from a Hong Kong shopping mall.
Thaksin was stripped of power 17 months ago when the army staged a coup during one of his trips abroad, and he has since lived in exile. He returns home several weeks after a government sympathetic to him replaced a military-appointed interim regime.
The People’s Power Party, which is packed with Thaksin allies, won Dec. 23 general elections and now leads a six-party coalition government. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who heads PPP, won widespread support by campaigning as Thaksin’s proxy and pledging to clear his name.
Thaksin and his wife, Pojaman, face corruption and conflict of interest charges in connection with her purchase of prime Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister. Pojaman returned to Thailand in January and was released on bail pending trial.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications magnate, also faces separate charges of concealing assets.
Speaking to journalists in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Thaksin called the charges against him “unjust, unfair allegations” that were “cooked up by my political enemies.”
Police will detain Thaksin on arrival and “they have to bring him to court,” said Rakkiat Wattapong, the Supreme Court secretary-general.
The chief of Thaksin’s legal defense team, Pichit Chuenban, said Thaksin would surrender to police and seek his release on bail.
An anti-Thaksin group has said it will mobilize protesters if the government intervenes in the legal process against him.
Thaksin supporters have said they will arrange transportation for hundreds of people to welcome him at the airport, the Bangkok Post reported.
“The party and government want his return to be quiet, but we cannot stop people who love him from greeting him at the airport,” Supamas Isarapakdi, a top aide to Samak, told The Associated Press, adding that she, too, planned to greet Thaksin at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport.
Rakkiat, however, warned that Thaksin’s supporters would be held in contempt of court if they cheer and shout and give him flowers in the Supreme Court compound.
On Tuesday, Thaksin’s Web site posted a picture of the deposed prime minister with his right hand raised giving the victory sign, superimposed over an image of Bangkok’s international airport as fireworks explode overhead. It urged supporters to greet him at the airport.
“Welcome home Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom we love, miss and have been waiting to return for over a year,” the Web site said.
On the Net:
- Thaksin’s Web site: http://www.hi-thaksin.net
Thaksin detained in Thailand after returning from exile
The Associated Press
Published: February 28, 2008
BANGKOK, Thailand: Deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned Thursday from 17 months in exile to face corruption charges, saying he hopes to restore his reputation following his ouster in a coup. Police immediately took him into custody.
Thai authorities took the 58-year-old billionaire politician into custody after his arrival at Suvarnabhumi International Airport on a Thai Airways flight from Hong Kong, said police Maj. Gen. Thaweesak Toochinda, the head of airport immigration police.
Two arrest warrants were issued for Thaksin after the September 2006 coup that ousted him. He faces corruption charges in two separate cases that date to his time in office from 2001-2006 and could receive a maximum of 15 years in prison.
“I have to restore my reputation which has been tarnished by the coup,” he told reporters on the plane shortly before landing.
Thousands of supporters had gathered at Suvarnabhumi International Airport before dawn to await his return. They danced, beat drums, sang and carried signs reading “We love Thaksin.”
Surrounded by 40 followers before boarding the plane in Hong Kong, Thaksin told reporters, “I believe in the Thai justice system, especially the court system. Normally in justice systems everywhere, a person is innocent until proved guilty.”
He said that he was a “little bit” concerned about his security. But he added that there was little chance his return would spark violence.
“I used to say when I was prime minister that there were attempts to assassinate me. Normally I would have some concerns but I hope that everyone is thinking of national reconciliation and they will prepare (security measures) for me well,” he said.
Thaksin repeated his pledge to stay out of politics — something neither his fans nor foes believe.
“I’m finished,” he said.
He was traveling with two players of Britain’s Manchester City soccer club, which Thaksin owns. The players — goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and midfielder Kelvin Etuhu — said they planned to hold some soccer clinics with Thai children and work out with the national team.
Police Lt. Gen. Prung Bunpadung said about 1,000 police were being deployed at the airport, along Thaksin’s route of travel and places he is expected to visit during the day.
The former prime minister inspires fear and loathing among his critics, and his return could re-ignite the deep political divisions that led to his downfall.
“Thaksin will plunge the country into a greater crisis that people will not be able to tolerate any longer,” said former Bangkok governor and onetime Thaksin ally Chamlong Srimuang. He said Thaksin’s vow to stay out of politics was a “political game,” and that he has played a key behind-the-scenes role in Thai politics while in exile.
Officials said Thaksin would be escorted from the airport to the Supreme Court where he and his wife Pojaman face corruption and conflict of interest charges in connection with her purchase of prime Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister. Pojaman returned to Thailand in January and was released on bail pending trial.
Thaksin was also expected to ask for bail.
He was then to proceed to the Department of Special Investigations where he is charged with allegedly concealing ownership of shares in a family business.
Altogether, he could face up to 15 years in jail for the cases already in progress against him.
Thaksin has said the charges were cooked up by his political enemies.
Thaksin enjoys support among rural people, who appreciated his financial and social welfare policies. But he is deeply resented by the urban elite for his autocratic ways and allegedly mass corruption under his regime.
Some of his old opponents are threatening new protests against him. Months of strident anti-Thaksin demonstrations in Bangkok culminated in the Sept. 19, 2006, military coup that toppled him while he was abroad.
His return marks an impressive comeback. His London-based exile was eased by his fortune, earned in telecommunications, and he kept himself in the spotlight by buying Britain’s Manchester City soccer club.
The forces that helped unseat Thaksin — the military, Bangkok’s educated middle class and the country’s elite, including people associated with the country’s monarchy — worked hard to erase Thaksin’s political legacy.
They changed the constitution to limit big parties’ power and sought to demonize him as a corrupt destroyer of democracy, in addition to launching various criminal investigations.
But Thaksin’s path back was eased by the victory of a pro-Thaksin party in last December’s general elections, the first since the coup.
An uneasy truce awaits Thaksin
By Amy Kazmin
Published: February 28 2008 02:00 | Last updated: February 28 2008 02:00
With loyalists to Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted former Thai prime minister, installed in power and Mr Thaksin himself poised to return to Thailand today after 17 months in exile, the Thai military has shuffled quietly off the political stage after what might appear to be an ignominious defeat.
Yet far from retreating to the barracks empty-handed, Thailand’s army has claimed some significant prizes from its political adventurism, including a more than 50 per cent increase in its budget, enhanced powers and greater autonomy.
The opposing military and political sides have exhibited restraint but tensions remain. As does the personal hostility between Mr Thaksin and those who drove him from power – which could flare up and be exacerbated by his return.
“These two can box well and can be quite lethal, but are not willing to confront each other yet,” says Panitan Wattanayagorn, a security and defence expert at Chulalongkorn University. “But it’s a matter of time.”
Mr Thaksin, who made no secret of his desire to return home, and General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the army chief who led the coup, have in recent weeks struck highly conciliatory tones about burying the past.
After his loyalists in the People’s Power party won the December elections, Mr Thaksin said he would play golf with those who ousted him to show he harboured no grudge, while Gen Sonthi declared his “brotherhood” with Mr Thaksin intact.
Whatever the true state of relations between the two, Sunai Phasuk, a Human Rights Watch political analyst, says he believes Thailand’s vying powers have reached a “super deal” to ensure at least short-term political stability.
Upon his return, Mr Thaksin is first expected to plead not guilty to corruption charges against him. Any plans he has to tour the country could prove provocative and irritate the army.
Mr Sunai predicts that the elected administration will yield to the military in an upcoming reshuffle of senior officers, rather than promote Thaksin loyalists, while the army will take no action to undermine the government.
“All sides have come to their senses,” he says. “What we will see is a practical collusion between the rival powers, with an aim to prevent another coup, and secure stability for a year, or year-and-a-half.”
Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister, was handpicked by Mr Thaksin as PPP leader but he is an old conservative who has cordial relations with the army as a whole. “He was chosen by Thaksin to serve as a solid bridge between the PPP leadership and the old establishment,” Mr Sunai says. “He will not be the one to rock the boat.”
Mr Samak, analysts say, is unlikely to tamper with a new internal security law, which gives the army strong powers, or a law passed just before the handover that gives army leaders greater autonomy than the 1997 constitution, which put the elected administration in charge of army promotions.
While Mr Samak might avoid any challenge to military prerogatives for the time being, many unresolved issues, including civilian control over the army and national security, are likely to re-emerge in the future.
“Security forces should be controlled by elected representatives . . .but for now, they are quite independent,” says Mr Panitan. “With the democratisation process, it’s inevitable that the civilian and military will have to confront each other again. But whether it is violent or not is a different issue; it could be peaceful.”
Chaturon Chaiseng, a former deputy prime minister, banned from politics for five years after the recent coup, says it is not just attacks on army prerogatives that could trigger military intervention.
Thai society remains deeply divided and the country’s influential elites are still vehemently antipathetic towards Mr Thaksin. Mr Chaturon says the army – steeped in the notion it must protect the nation from corrupt politicians – could again step into politics.
Supporters and critics ready as Thaksin returns to Thailand
Thaksin Shinawatra at the Thai foreign ministry. Photograph: Barbara Walton
Seventeen months after Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed in a bloodless military coup, the former Thai prime minister is preparing to make a triumphal return from self-imposed exile early this morning.
Thaksin – who in the intervening time bought up Manchester City football club – is due to step off a Thai International Airways flight from Hong Kong shortly before 10am to be greeted by faithful followers and government ministers.
The 58-year-old billionaire tycoon, who has spent most of his exile in London, will also be met at Bangkok’s international airport by Thai police, who are due to serve an arrest warrant on corruption charges.
Thaksin reiterated his pledge to quit politics for good hours before his return. “I’ve had enough,” he said. “The country has returned to democracy, so I want to go home … I miss my motherland.”
However, opponents of the divisive former prime minister, who still commands fierce loyalty among the rural poor, fear his return could propel the country into fresh uncertainty as Thaksin vies with his proxy, the prime minister Samak Sundaravej.
But Thailand’s royalist-military elite, which staged the September 2006 coup to get rid of Thaksin while he visited the UN in New York, remains chastened by the experience of watching its popularity evaporate. The government drifted and its anointed party took a drubbing in last December’s polls when the People Power party, the successor to Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, took charge of a six-party coalition.
The widely rumoured corruption allegations used as the imperative for bringing down Thaksin failed to materialise in any significant way despite an exhaustive inquiry by government committees.
Loyalists envisage a tumultuous homecoming with crowds of up to 10,000 supporters expected. But Rakkiat Wattapong, the supreme court secretary general, said Thaksin would be arrested on arrival on a warrant issued last September. Thaksin’s chief legal adviser, Pichit Chuenban, said he would surrender and seek bail.
Thaksin is jointly charged with his wife, Pojaman, who returned in January. Both face up to 13 years in jail over corruption charges relating to Pojaman’s purchase of a piece of Bangkok land at a favourable price from a government agency while Thaksin was in office. It is the only charge to be brought so far, but the couple could also face allegations over fraudulent filings to Thailand Securities and Exchange Commission over the 2003 listing of a property company.
Samak, who openly campaigned as Thaksin’s proxy, has played a cautious game, welcoming Thaksin’s return but warning activists not to take to the streets. But political analysts fear that Thaksin’s return will see him drawn into the mire of Thailand’s murky powerbroking.
“We will have two prime ministers working at the same time – one officially and the other unofficially,” said analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
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