Shinawatra sentenced to two years in prison

A THAI court found former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty of corruption and sentenced him yesterday to two years in prison, adding a new twist to the country’s paralysing political crisis.

The guilty verdict was the first against the country’s former leader since he was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin, 59, jumped bail and fled to England two months ago along with his wife, Pojaman, 51, who was also charged. The supreme court acquitted her yesterday.

From his home near London, Thaksin condemned the conviction but said it was hardly a surprise.

“It was politically motivated since the court is a carry-forward of the coup d’etat,” Thaksin said. “I’m a politician and after I was toppled by the coup, it’s normal that they will try every means to justify it.”

The 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 August. They chanted, “Go to jail, go to jail!”.

The charges stemmed from allegations that Thaksin facilitated his wife’s purchase of lucrative Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister.

“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.

A prosecutor said the attorney-general’s office “will speed up” its effort to extradite Thaksin, who remains the country’s most influential politician. A formal request has yet to be made.

“We set up a special task force to handle Thaksin’s extradition process some time ago,” said 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 politics played a part in the legal proceedings.

Thaksin said he was confident he would be able to remain in Britain. “I was waiting for today before planning my life,” he said. “I want to be a prominent businessman in the UK if the British people will welcome me.”

The Supreme Court’s widely expected ruling made Thaksin the first politician convicted of corruption committed while prime minister, but it 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.

“We still will not leave Government House, and we still call for political reform to get rid of the Thaksin regime and the current political system plagued with corruption and abuse of power,” said Pipob Thongchai, a protest leader.

Thaskin’s brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, is the current Thai prime minister and has been labeled a Thaksin puppet by protesters demanding his ouster.


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