Thaksin assets case verdict due in January
Mon, Dec 21, 2009
The Nation/Asia News Network

The court trial underway over the "frozen" assets of fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra is expected to deliver a verdict in January.

Thaksin has been accused of concealing his wealth while he was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and implementing a series of abusive policy measures to boost the value of his family businesses.

The case is being heard by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.

Prosecutors have cited information gathered from an investigation by the post-coup Assets Examination Committee (AEC), alleging that Thaksin violated the anti-corruption law by concealing his shareholdings in Shin Corp, which he and his family held a majority stake in.

If found guilty, assets now "frozen" in Thai banks totalling just over Bt76 billion could be seized. Those funds came from the highly controversial sale of his family's shares in Shin Corp to Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings in early 2006.

While Thaksin does not face any jail term in this case, he could suffer a significant blow if such a large amount of his assets is seized. His bid to regain political power will suffer a major setback, as his capacity to financially support red-shirt supporters in Thailand would be severely affected.

Thus, the assets case is seen as a key court case against the former national leader.

In October last year, the same court sentenced Thaksin to two years in jail for a conflict of interest in connection to his wife's purchase of coveted land plots in central Bangkok that were auctioned by the branch of the central bank.

Thaksin, who fled the country before the court ruling because of fears he would be jailed, later claimed the verdict was politically motivated. He did not bother to appeal.

The assets trial, which has been going on months, started with hearings of defence witnesses but is now hearing evidence from prosecution witnesses.

The last prosecution witnesses will be heard by the court on Dec 22.

The defence had a long list of some 30 witnesses, including Thaksin's ex-wife Pojaman, their son Panthongtae, their daughter Pinthongta, other family members and relatives, plus Pojaman's secretary Kanchanapa Honghern and Surapong Suebwonglee, a former member of Thaksin's Cabinet and the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party.

The defence lawyers, led by Pichit Chuenban, had declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, lawyer sources familiar with this case said the defence strategy is to convince the court that Thaksin and his former wife did not hide assets.

If the court believed so, there would be no need to judge whether the ex-premier had abused his powers while in office.

Essentially, defence lawyers also accused the AEC of adopting "double standards" over Thaksin's case when compared to other cases of politicians accused of hiding their assets.

According to Kanchanapa, Pojaman's personal secretary, Thaksin had transferred ownership of shares to his children before he became premier.

Pojaman and their children told the court that Panthongtae and Pinthongta did not hold the shares as their father's nominees and that Thaksin did not secretly hold shares overseas, as had been claimed.

During the trial, the defence said that Thaksin and Pojaman were now divorced and that this had an impact on the division of assets.

Pojaman told the court the couple had a divorce agreement specifying that assets held by either of them should be given to those persons after the divorce.

However, if Thaksin loses the case, Pojaman will have to prove ownership of any assets the court may seize.

Her relatives Bannapot and Busaba Damapong also had protested against the "freezing" of assets, which they claim were part of the Shin Corp sale.

Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra wept while giving testimony in court. She claims her family has been as a victim of political persecution.

The prosecution responded with witnesses who testified against Thaksin. They included Kaewsun Atibodhi, a member of the defunct AEC which investigated numerous graft scandals concerning the Thaksin governments; Sunai Manomai-udom, former head of the Department of Special Investigation, who oversaw an inquiry into the SC Asset Plc's concealment of major shareholders; and Waratchaya Srimachan, assistant secretary-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who testified on "paper companies" allegedly set up to act as nominee shareholders for Thaksin.

Viboon Sithaporn, former assistant managing director of the state-owned Export-Import Bank of Thailand, testified that the Thaksin government's policy of lending Bt4 billion to the Burmese government, at low interest rates, resulted in a financial burden for the state. Part of the loan was used to buy equipment from Shin Satellite, an affiliate of Shin Corp, he said.

Executives of mobile-phone operator Total Access Communications Plc also testified that unfair concession terms set by the Thaksin government benefited Advanced Info Service, Shin Corp's mobile-phone operator, which was allowed to pay less fees than its competitors.

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