Friday, February 26, 2010

Thailand - Court: Thaksin family conceals shares

[bangkok post] The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra illegally hid his ownership of telecom shares, as it delivered a ruling on whether his 76.6-billion-baht frozen fortune would be seized.

Thousands of troops and police were deployed across the country for what the local media have dubbed "Judgement Day", amid fears that Thaksin's supporters could react violently if the verdict does not go his way.

The Supreme Court is deciding the fate of the proceeds from the sale of the fugitive tycoon's Shin Corp telecommunications giant, which have been frozen since the 2006 coup that toppled him.

Authorities applied for the seizure of Thaksin's wealth on the grounds that he abused his power while at the head of government from 2001 to 2006 to become "unusually rich".

The final ruling on the confiscation was yet to come, but after five hours of reading out their findings the judges made several rulings against Thaksin, who is living in exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption.

"The court ruled consensually that Thaksin and his then-wife Potjaman held Shin Corp shares through his two terms as prime minister," the judges said in the ruling, which was read out on national television and radio.

Thaksin had also issued a cabinet resolution in favour of his company, the judges said.

Shin Corp was sold to Singapore-based Temasek Holdings in January 2006, sparking protests. The defence had argued that the shares had been transferred to his children and his ex-wife's stepbrother.

The judges unanimously rejected arguments by Thaksin's lawyers that the attorney-general was not authorised to bring charges against Thaksin and that the court was unqualified to deal with the case.

No members of the Shinawatra family were at court, being represented instead by defence lawyers.

About 450 police in riot gear guarded the court but there were only around a dozen protesters from his so-called "Red Shirt" movement outside, and fewer than 100 at another protest site in the capital.

The government says up to 35,000 police and soldiers are on alert. Security was also tight around Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's office and the government said it had prepared several safe houses for him.

Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City football club, earlier denied the accusations against him.

"I want to reaffirm that I and my family earned all of the money with our hard work, brains, and sweat. We have never been corrupt as accused," he said on Twitter early Friday.

In a video speech to hundreds of Red Shirts at the headquarters of the Puea Thai opposition party, he said: "My morale is high now."

"Today is a very significant day and a turning point, not only for my family but for Thailand's judicial and political history," he said.

Media has whipped up a frenzy ahead of the verdict, counting down to the day and reporting rumours of a possible coup against Abhisit.

The judges have various options, such as ruling that the government should confiscate all or none of Thaksin's wealth, or that it should take only part of the money, for example the portion he earned after taking power.

The case goes to the heart of the rifts that have opened up in Thai society since the coup.

The red-shirts, largely from his stronghold in the rural North and Northeast, loved his populist policies and accuse the current government of being an unelected elite that has hijacked their democratic rights.

Court: Thaksin family conceals shares

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