Monday, 1 March 2010

Thaksin verdict raises more questions

Landmark case in Thai courts could have impact in political circles, trigger more lawsuits

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Guanyu 道 said...

Thaksin verdict raises more questions

Landmark case in Thai courts could have impact in political circles, trigger more lawsuits

By Nirmal Ghosh
28 February 2010

Bangkok: The verdict in the conflict of interest case against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra poses serious questions for politicians in Thailand.

Previous cases involving corrupt politicians were straightforward cases of them taking bribes or kickbacks. But the Thaksin case deals with a more murky issue of so-called ‘policy corruption’ that led to ‘abnormal gains’, in the court’s words.

Last Friday, the court sided with the prosecution in finding that Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, had used his position to create a web of policies that benefited his own company.

It dismissed his defence that his company performed no better on the stock market than other large corporations at the time. Instead, the court cited cases which it said showed he had engineered the terms of contracts and concessions that ultimately benefited his own company.

The nine-judge court also found that Thaksin disguised his own shareholdings in Shin Corp, and extended a loan to Myanmar provided the government there gave business to Shin Corp.

It ruled that the state should seize 46 billion baht (S$1.9 billion) of Thaksin’s frozen funds, and return 30 billion baht which it said he had accumulated before he became prime minister.

The total of about 76 billion baht was the price Thaksin and his family got for selling their controlling stake in Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings.

The assumption was that the value added to the company after he became prime minister was a result of abuse of power.

‘This verdict is not just about corruption. It falls into the grey area of conflict of interest and abuse of power,’ said political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Chulalongkorn University. ‘This benchmark will put the judiciary and the way Thailand works to the test.’

A senior government official, asking not to be named, noted that some of the cases the court had cited involved not just Thaksin but also his Cabinet. This assertion would ‘send shock waves through political circles’.

‘It’s very clear that a new standard has been set by the court despite accusations about the court’s origins,’ the official said. He was referring to criticism that the prosecution was triggered by an illegal act itself: the 2006 coup d’etat that removed Thaksin from power.

This was the first time conflict of interest had been proven, and the court’s judgment had been very clear, he said.

‘We don’t want to be like the Philippines,’ he said, referring to the 23-year struggle to recover the wealth stashed away by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Sources say more charges could be filed by different agencies against Thaksin or other entities. These charges would stem from the court’s verdict that consequently casts doubt on the legality of certain contracts and concessions.

Analysts also noted that it may be difficult for Thaksin to recover the money the court had ordered to be returned to him.

He has denounced the verdict and cautioned businessmen against entering politics. ‘If you do that, my fate will be yours,’ he said. ‘If you really want to serve, sell everything before you step in.’

Former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama, a legal adviser to Thaksin, said his lawyers were considering an appeal. At the offices of the pro-Thaksin opposition Puea Thai party, Mr. Noppadon read a statement in which Thaksin said he had been ‘robbed’.

But Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters yesterday: ‘I don’t think we are stealing anyone’s money. The money now belongs to the country.’

Despite fears of protest by the pro-Thaksin red shirts, Bangkok remained calm yesterday.