BANGKOK — A top official has insisted that prison wardens are not privileging the recently-incarcerated founder of the Yellowshirt movement who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week.
Sondhi Limthongkul, 66, has been imprisoned since an appeals court found him guilty of fraud and falsifying loan documents on 7 August and rejected his request for a release on bail. He is currently incarcerated at Klong Prem Central Prison in northern Bangkok, a high-security prison for those sentenced to more than 15 years in jail.
"He has been living strictly under the rules of the prison," Department of Corrections director Witthaya Suriyawong said today. “There are no privileges for him.” Mr. Witthaya added that Mr. Sondhi is sharing a cell with other prisoners.
However, Mr. Witthaya said he has instructed the director of Klong Prem Prison to keep a close watch on Mr. Sondhi and prevent prisoners "with different political ideas" from mixing with him in order to maintain peace and order in the prison.
According to the Department of Corrections director, the prison wardens have relied on night guards and CCTV footage to keep an eye on Mr. Sondhi's personal safety.
The official emphasised that these policies are necessary and should not be considered a privilege for Mr. Sondhi.
"The important thing is that no one must be allowed to harm him, lest it escalates into a big issue," Mr. Witthaya said.
He added, "Mr. Sondhi has been in prison for almost a week now. I believe he has already adapted his mind and habits to the prison environment. His relatives have not requested anything special for him either."
A group of family members, colleagues, and friends visited Mr. Sondhi for 15 minutes today.
Mr. Sondhi and two other executives of Manager Media Group, of which Mr. Sondhi is a founder, were deemed guilty by the Court of Appeals on 7 August for falsifying an internal memo that allowed the company to guarantee a 1.078 billion baht loan from Krung Thai Bank to the The M Group, a company that Mr. Sondhi held shares in.
The company later defaulted on its loan, forcing Manager Media Group to pay back the debt. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also accused Mr. Sondhi of hiding the loan guarantee from the financial statement the company filed to the stock market.
The defendant contested the verdict but the Supreme Court has not yet confirmed whether it will take up the case.
Mr. Sondhi was a well-known media tycoon before he became anti-corruption activist and launched a campaign against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005.
He founded the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which later became known as the Yellowshirts for adopting yellow – His Majesty the King's personal colour – as the group's symbol. Mr. Sondhi accused Mr. Thaksin of corruption, abuse of power, and plotting to overthrow the monarchy.
A power struggle between the Yellowshirts and the rival, pro-Thaksin political faction known as the “Redshirts” has destabilized Thailand's politics for almost a decade.
Street protests led by the PAD eventually led to the military coup against Mr. Thaksin on 19 September 2006.