Thailand to ask Hong Kong to extradite Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra during a trip to Tokyo last year.

Thai authorities are seeking the extradition of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from Hong Kong, local media said on Tuesday, as his powerful political family began descending on the city for a wedding ahead of Sunday's general election.

Thaksin's youngest daughter Paetongtarn "Ing" Shinawatra is set to marry commercial pilot Pidok Sooksawas on Friday at the Rosewood Hotel in Hong Kong. The couple has already landed in the city and the South China Morning Post understands Thaksin has also arrived.

Thaksin frequents Hong Kong as he uses the city as a base to meet with politicians from the Pheu Thai Party loyal to him. Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, was deposed in a coup and has been in self-exile since 2008 to escape criminal charges he says are trumped up by the military establishment.

Usually accompanying Thaksin, 59, during his Hong Kong trips is his sister, Yingluck, who was also deposed by the military after serving as prime minister from 2011 to 2014.

Chatchom Akapin, head of the public prosecutor's overseas department, reportedly said a formal extradition request would be put in as soon as authorities found out where exactly Thaksin would be staying. He said this was the first time such a request was being made to Hong Kong authorities.

"Thaksin is still wanted for a conviction under Thai law," Chatchom told reporters, according to the Khaosod English news website.

Thailand and Hong Kong do not have an extradition treaty. The Post asked Hong Kong's Department of Justice if Thai authorities had made a request or what it would do if such a request was made, but the department would only say that it did not comment on individual cases.

Apart from Hong Kong, Thaksin also frequents Singapore, London and Beijing.

He is believed to be using a non-Thai passport.

The Post last year reported that Yingluck - ousted by current junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha in 2014 - fled the country in 2017 with a Cambodian passport.

Like her brother, she too faces criminal charges brought by prosecutors during military administration.

The Shinawatras, the main force behind the Pheu Thai party backed by the country's rural northeast, helm a vast business empire.

Pheu Thai is widely expected to win Sunday's election, but observers say skewed election rules crafted by Prayuth's administration are likely to keep the ex-army general in power.

Hong Kong has mutual extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the US, Britain, Canada, the Philippines and Singapore.

In addition, it provides criminal legal assistance to 32 countries, for instance, by handing over evidence, with decisions made by the secretary for justice.

Hong Kong is now considering allowing the reciprocal transfer of fugitives with mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, on a case-by-case basis.

Panat Tasneeyanond, former dean of Thammasat University's law faculty, said extradition of a wanted person between Hong Kong and Thailand could still take place under the principle of reciprocity.

"In the event that Hong Kong would like Thailand's co-operation to extradite a person in future, it might assist now if there is a request from Thailand and if it thinks the request is apt."

Additional reporting by KC Ng and Jitsiree Thongnoi.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.