Thailand to demand Britain hand over Thaksin

Britain will be asked to extradite former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra after he was convicted of corruption charges today.

Thaksin was found guilty of abusing his office by the Thai Supreme Court and sentenced to two years jail in his absence.

The former Manchester City football club owner and his wife fled to Britain in August where they remain in exile but the Thai attorney-general’s office said today it “will speed up” its effort to extradite Thaksin.

“We set up a special task force to handle Thaksin’s extradition process some time ago,” said prosecutor Seksan Bangsomboon. “Tomorrow we will come and get the verdict and have it translated into English and then send it with our request to the British government asking for the extradition of Thaksin.”

Extradition across borders is usually a lengthy and complicated process, and many countries make an exception for cases where there may be reason to believe that politics played a part in the legal proceedings

The guilty verdict in a case where he was accused of using his influence to get his wife a major land deal from a government department was the first against the country’s former leader since he was removed in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin said today the conviction was “politically motivated” and “a carry forward of the coup d’etat” against him.

The court’s ruling was greeted with excitement by the political movement trying to force out the current government, which they accuse of being controlled by Thaksin.

Raucous cheers erupted among several thousand members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which has occupied the grounds of the prime minister’s offices since last August.

With a conviction widely anticipated, Thaksin, 59, fled with wife, Pojaman, 51, who was also charged. The Supreme Court acquitted her today.

The charges stemmed from Pojaman’s purchase in 2003 of a plot of land in central Bangkok.

The verdict was unlikely to ease the political tensions that have been boiling since the protesters took over Government House on August 26 and staged militant street demonstrations.

The protest leaders say they want to change the country’s political system in a manner that would stamp out corruption. But their critics say their plans would disenfranchise the country’s poor majority and put more power in the hands of the traditional elite.

The court found Thaksin guilty of violating several laws barring public office holders and their spouses from holding a contract with the state. Thaksin’s lawyers had argued that the agency from which the land was purchased was an independent body.

“The defendant was the prime minister at the time. He should have been honest and ethical and should not have violated counter-corruption laws,” Thongloh Chomngam, head of the court’s nine-judge panel, said in reading from the lengthy verdict.

Thaksin remains the most influential politician in the country, especially in the countryside, where he built up a political base during his 2001-2006 time in office by implementing a raft of populist programs

His brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, is the current prime minister and has been labelled a Thaksin puppet by protesters demanding his removal.

Somchai’s government has been virtually paralysed by the protests.

Thaksin said he was confident he would be able to remain in Britain despite the new arrest warrant issued against him. He already has several warrants out for him in other corruption cases.

“I think I can stay here because this is very mature democratic country,” he said. “There is no way I will be extradited because the (Thai) court is a political court.”

The former telecommunications tycoon said he now hopes to become a prominent businessman in the UK, possibly in the energy business.

Thaksin compared his plight with Manchester City, which he sold last month to Abu Dhabi investors. City came from behind on Monday night to tie 2-2 against Newcastle United.

“It’s important to keep a fighting spirit,” he said.

“Thai democracy is at the crossroads,” Thaksin said. “I would like to urge everyone concerned to give freedom to the Thai people to exercise democratic power. Don’t think that they are less educated, they are poor – I think they have better understanding of democracy than many who have had better education.”

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