Beleagured former premier Thaksin flees Thailand


Bangkok : Thailand’s deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra Monday said he and his family would live in England to escape persecution by his political enemies in Thailand.

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“I have decided to live in England,” Thaksin said in a hand-written statement he sent to Thai television stations. He will presumably seek political asylum.

Thaksin apologized to the people and his followers for his decision not to return to Thailand to face several court cases against him and his wife.

In his statement Thaksin claimed that his court cases were part of a campaign by his political enemies to keep him out of politics.

“What has happened to me and my family is the fruit of a poisoned tree,” said Thaksin, who argued that his political enemies had biased the investigations into corruption charges against him in the aftermath of his overthrow by a military coup on Sep 19, 2006.

Thaksin and his wife Pojaman flew to London Sunday night from Beijing where they had attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics Friday.

Thailand’s Supreme Court July 29 granted Thaksin and Pojaman permission to travel to Beijing on the stipulation that they returned to Thailand Monday to stand trial later this week in the Ratchadaphist land case, in which the couple stand accused of abusing power in a land purchase deal in 2003 when Thaksin was still prime minister.

The couple had booked return tickets on Thai Airways International (THAI) flight 615 Sunday night but never boarded the plane.

Thaksin faces at least four corruption and abuse of power cases from his controversial premiership while his wife was sentenced to three years in prison on a tax evasion charge on July 31. She had appealed the verdict.

Thaksin was prime minister for two terms from 2001 until Sept 19, 2006, when he was toppled by a military coup on charges of corruption, dividing the nation and undermining democracy and the monarchy.

The Shinawatra’s three children – son Panthongtae and daughters Pinthongta and Paethongtan – departed Bangkok for London Saturday.

Political observers viewed Thaksin’s decision to seek asylum abroad as the end of his political career.

“His political career is effectively finished in the event that he seeks asylum or goes in to exile because if the court cases go against him he will be a fugitive,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) at Chulalongkorn University.

Although he is closely allied to the People Power Party, that leads the current government, Thaksin’s political clout has not protected him from the Thai judiciary which is pressing several cases against the former first couple and has already sentenced his wife to jail.

Thaksin was in self-exile, mostly in London, for more than a year after the September 2006 coup and only returned to Thailand in February to face several corruption charges.

In 2007 he purchased the Manchester City football club.

A former policeman who became a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, Thaksin came to power on a populist platform in 2001.

He remains one of Thailand’s most popular, and controversial, political figures.

While populist policies won Thaksin the devotion among Thailand’s masses of rural and urban poor, evidence of corruption and self-serving policies during his increasingly monopolistic rule turned the Bangkok-based middle class and political elite against him in early 2006, ushering in his downfall at the hands of the army.