Thaksin found guilty and sentenced to jail

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By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Published: October 21 2008 10:46 | Last updated: October 21 2008 10:46

Thailand’s Supreme Court has found the country’s controversial former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty in absentia of abusing his office and sentenced him to two years in jail.

However, Mr Thaksin fled to the United Kingdom in August and says he will not return to face the courts on charges he believes are politically motivated. Prosecutors said they would request Britain to extradite Mr Thaksin.

Mr Thaksin said he was not surprised by the verdict.

”I have been informed of the result. I had long anticipated that it would turn out this way,” he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Thaksin’s wife, Pojaman, who shares his exile and was his co-accused in the case, was acquitted and the arrest warrant which had been issued against her cancelled.

Today’s verdict relates to a case which began in 2003, shortly after Mr Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party had been voted into office with a huge majority. Mrs Pojaman bought a prime plot of land in central Bangkok from the central bank’s Financial Institutions Development Fund for 772m baht ($22.5m).

The charges were laid under Article 100 of the National Counter Corruption Act, which stipulates that government officials and their spouses are prohibited from entering into or having interests in contracts with state agencies under their supervision.

Mr Thaksin’s lawyers had argued that the Financial Institutions Development Fund, was a state enterprise, rather than a government department, and therefore not under his control. The nine judges of the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders disagreed, voting 5 to 4 to convict.

Mr Thaksin was removed from office in a military coup in 2006, but his allies won the election that ended the army’s rule last December. Mr Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City football club, returned to Thailand earlier this year, where he was arraigned in court and bailed on the property case charges.

The court allowed him and his wife to travel to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games in August, and the couple absconded, faxing a hand-written letter to media outlets in which he said he had feared for his life after his return and that he believed the charges were part of a politically motivated witch hunt.

Thailand’s courts have become more and more active in the country’s political sphere. The Constitutional Court dissolved Mr Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party last year after it was found guilty of vote buying and former prime minister and Thaksin ally Samak Sundravej was thrown out of office earlier this year when he was found guilty of taking payments for appearing in a cooking show while in office.

Mr Thaksin’s allies accuse the judicial system of being part of a politically motivated programme designed to remove them from office; his opponents say the courts are exercising new-found independence since escaping from Mr Thaksin’s autocratic rule.

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