Prosecutors Resurrect Graft Cases Against Thaksin

A screencap of Thaksin Shinawatra taken from his Facebook video in July 2016

BANGKOK — Public prosecutors said Tuesday they would pursue two corruption cases against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra despite the fact that he’s outside the country.

Fresh trials against the deposed former premier, who was convicted in absentia nine years ago, were made possible by a new law passed in July by the junta’s rubber-stamp parliament which cleared the way for prosecuting him anew.

A spokesman for the attorney general said it was not meant to target the 67-year-old tycoon, who remained the de facto leader of the government toppled by the current junta three years ago.

“This is in accordance with the law. It is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General,” spokesman Wanchart Santikunchorn said today at a news conference. “There was no discrimination.”

Thaksin is accused of rigging regulations to favor his telecommunications firm while he led the government in 2003. He also stands accused of ordering a public-owned bank to loan 11.5 billion baht to construction companies headed by his aides a year earlier. For both allegations, Thaksin was charged with corruption.

But prosecuting the former leader proved impossible as Thaksin fled the country in 2008, shortly before he was convicted in absentia of a separate graft charge. His 2002 and 2003 cases have been declared “suspended” ever since.

That changed when the interim parliament voted unanimously to approve a new bill that would allow the court’s political prosecution division to try fugitive defendants without needing their presence. Trials can be convened after defendants have eluded capture for three months.

Prosecutor spokesman Wanchart said Thaksin could appoint lawyers to argue the case on his behalf.

Thaksin and his supporters maintain the corruption charges pressed against him are politically motivated.

Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is also on the run from the court on graft charges. Yingluck, who led the pro-Thaksin government until the May 2014 coup, fled the country in August, several days before the court was due to deliver a verdict.

Yingluck was later convicted in absentia of negligence leading to billions of baht in damages under her key rice program. She has not spoken about the case since.