Thailand readies extradition bid for ex-PM

August 13, 2008 — Updated 1718 GMT

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The Thai government on Wednesday began preparing to request the extradition of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned to exile in Britain after missing a court appearance earlier this week.

Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, front, and his wife Pojaman.

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, front, and his wife Pojaman.

The Supreme Court issued arrest warrants Monday for Thaksin and his wife Pojaman after they failed to attend a scheduled hearing on a corruption case pending against them.

The couple, who traveled to China last week for the Olympics opening ceremony, were also ordered to forfeit a total of 13 million baht ($389,000) bail.

Thaksin said in a handwritten statement Monday that he had decided to return to Britain because he could not expect a fair trial in Thailand, where he was prime minister from 2001 to September 2006, when he was ousted in a military coup.

The government faces pressure to get him back, though many said his departure would help ease political tensions that began with protests early in 2006 seeking his removal from office because of alleged corruption and abuse of power. 

“We are currently studying the legal details of the case (for extradition),” Sirisak Tiyapan, the head of the international affairs department of the Thai attorney general’s office. “But there has been no formal request so far.”

He added that his office has not yet received arrest warrants and other documents from the court which would be necessary to make an extradition request.

Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag said the ministry is also waiting for formal documents from the court before canceling Thaksin’s diplomatic passport, which he holds as a privilege of his former position.

“This is our priority. We will proceed as soon as possible,” Tej told reporters.

Thaksin’s diplomatic passport was revoked after the coup, but returned to him earlier this year after the election of a new government led by political allies.

Extradition is generally a complicated legal procedure, and many Western countries are reluctant to agree to it in cases with political overtones, or if they fear the suspect may be persecuted.

Thaksin’s exact status in Britain has not been made public. A spokeswoman for the British home affairs office earlier said it would not comment on individual immigration cases. Speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy, she said a criminal indictment in another country “wouldn’t necessarily affect someone’s immigration status.”

Thaksin, 59, faces a slew of court cases and investigations into alleged corruption and abuse of power during his five years in office. In his Monday statement, he insisted he was innocent of all the accusations.

He returned to Thailand less than six months ago after an extended period of exile following the 2006 military coup, much of it spent at his London residence and traveling around Europe and Asia making business deals, most notably the purchase of Britain’s Manchester City football club.

On July 31, the criminal court convicted his wife of evading millions of dollars in taxes and sentenced her to three years in prison. She was released on bail.

Four cases against Thaksin have gone to court, while others are still under investigation.

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