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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 07-31-2008, 11:44 AM Thread Starter
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Thursday, Jul. 31, 2008
Thaksin's Wife Found Guilty
By Robert Horn/Bangkok

The legal noose tightened around former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra this week when, on July 31, the nation's Criminal Court found his wife Pojaman Shinawatra guilty of tax evasion, sentencing her to three years in prison in a decision that will likely increase already sharp political tensions in the country.

Pojaman, 50, her brother Bannaphot Damapong and her secretary Pennapa Honghern were found guilty of evading $16.3 million in taxes and providing false testimony in relation to a 1997 transfer of 4.5 million shares in Shin Corporation, the telecommunications conglomerate formerly owned by Thaksin and his family. Pojaman and the other defendants were released before the morning was over on $149,000 bail apiece. Neither she nor Thaksin immediately commented on the verdict, but it is expected she will appeal.

The verdict is the first of several to come in a series of legal cases facing the former PM and his inner circle. Thaksin himself, who was ousted in a September 2006 bloodless coup by a military clique that claimed the popular leader was corrupt, divisive and disrespectful of the nation's revered monarchy, also faces four separate trials on corruption-related charges. "This verdict makes it a lot more obvious that Thaksin might not survive his legal troubles," said Professor Jade Donavanik, a former dean of Siam University Law School in Bangkok.

Nor, says Donavanik, does the verdict bode well for the political tumult that has been rocking Thailand in recent months. Since Thaksin's ouster two years ago, Thailand has become deeply divided between supporters and opponents of the former PM; last week, dozens of anti-Thaksin protestors were injured when antagonisms between the two groups turned violent at two provincial rallies.

In a Bangkok courtroom, Thaksin and his family sat with somber expressions throughout proceedings as the judge reprimanded Pojaman, saying that her high economic, social and political status should have compelled her to set a better example for society. The family had been greeted by about 2,000 supporters when they arrived at the Criminal Court building.

Prior to the 2006 coup, political cases rarely made their way through Thailand's justice system. But that is changing. Earlier this month, three of Thaksin's lawyers were jailed for attempting to bribe court officials of the Constitutional Court by handing them the equivalent of $59,000 in a pastry bag as a gift. "This judicial review and activism on the part of the courts could mean the start of a real checks and balances system in Thailand, and so if it continues it would be a positive development," Donavanik, the law professor, said. "I hope it stays."

Thaksin was ousted from government in 2006 while on a state visit to New York City, after which he lived in self-imposed exile for the nearly two years of military rule that followed. During that time, a constitutional tribunal found his Thai Rak Thai party guilty of violating election laws, the party was dissolved, and Thaksin and 110 other party executives were banned from politics for five years.

After democratic elections resumed in late 2007 and his surviving political allies were elected, Thaksin returned to Bangkok. He is still enormously popular with poor and rural voters who felt his government, despite the charges against it, was the first to put their interests, like universal health care and debt relief for farmers, on the national agenda.

Not long after the coup, a military-appointed committee set up to investigate allegations of suspected corruption by Thaksin and certain members of his government. After lengthy probes it has filed four cases with the courts. They allege that while in office, Thaksin influenced the sale of state land to his wife at a discount, gave a preferential Thai government loan to the government of Burma to buy telecoms equipment from his company, changed the laws on telecommunications concessions to increase his firm's profits at the expense of government telecoms agencies, and illegally instituted a government lottery scheme using some of the proceeds as a slush fund for political purposes. Thaksin has repeatedly denied all the charges.

But the ex-PM was not the last head of state to run into trouble. Many of the former Thai Rak Thai lawmakers who were not banned by the Constitutional Court grouped together under the banner of the People Power Party, which later won power in a December 2007 election. (The party is widely seen as a proxy for Thaksin; the current Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej initially described himself as Thaksin's "nominee.") While Thai courts deliver verdicts on Thaksin and his circle, Samak also faces a host of legal woes and social unrest. He is currently appealing a conviction for defamation, being investigated for a contract to purchase firefighting equipment while he was governor of Bangkok, and awaiting a ruling from a national court on whether he has violated the law by hosting a weekly cooking show while serving as Prime Minister.

Furthermore, since Samak announced four months ago he planned to amend the constitution drawn up by a military-appointed committee — and approved in a national referendum — he and his party have been facing prolonged street protests from opposition that claims the changes are designed to invalidate the legal cases against Thaksin and the current government.

How this week's verdict will play out in rural Thailand, where Thaksin enjoys his greatest support, remains to be seen. Last week, violence broke out in two northeastern provinces when pro-government groups attacked anti-government demonstrators as police looked on. Dozens were injured, prompting civil rights groups, academics and opposition politicians to demand the government protect its opponents' right to peacefully protest.

It's also not clear how much longer Samak and his cabinet will be in office to protest against. Donavanik says if Thaksin fails to survive the legal process, it's unlikely he will continue to support the ruling People Power Party for long, and, he says, "That means other powerful players will have to step forward and fight for control."

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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 07-31-2008, 12:09 PM
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I'm sure she will learn some new skills in a Thai prison, so she can get work when released.
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 07-31-2008, 12:21 PM
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Time to pack up and leave for good it sounds. Wonder what people Thaksin financially threatened for things to go so sour?
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