Former Thai premier Thaksin sentenced to two years (Lead)

October 21st, 2008 - 5:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Oct 21 (DPA) Thailand’s Supreme Court Tuesday sentenced former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to two years in prison for abuse of power in allowing his wife to purchase a plot of land at a government auction when he was still in office.His wife, Pojaman, a co-defendant in the case, was found not guilty in a 7-2 ruling by the nine judges of the Supreme Court for Political Office Holders.

The same court ruled 5-4 against Thaksin, sentencing him to jail for abusing his power as a state official in allowing Pojaman to bid 772 million baht ($22.7 million) on 5.3 hectares of land in central Bangkok in 2003.

“Pojaman was not grouped under the same judgement as her husband because she was not a government official when she purchased the land,” said Saeksan Bangsomboom, the head of the prosecution team.

The court ruled that the prime piece of real estate on Ratchadaphisek Road must be returned to the state while the money would be returned to Pojaman.

The former first couple were not in court to hear the verdict. They are living in self-imposed exile in London, where they fled Aug 10, days after the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced Pojaman to three years in jail for tax evasion.

“The attorney general will be seeking Thaksin’s extradition very shortly,” Saeksan said.

Thaksin has the right to appeal the verdict.

The sentence would expire in 10 years, after which Thaksin could return to Thailand without fear of being jailed, Saeksan said.

Thaksin was toppled in a bloodless military coup in September 2006 on accusations of mass corruption, dividing the nation and undermining the institutions of democracy and the monarchy.

Although he faces several court cases, the land case was the first in which he has been found guilty and sentenced.

Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, remains a divisive figure in Thai society.

Thaksin introduced populist policies to Thailand’s long tradition of money politics, winning himself a strong following among the country’s rural and urban poor, many of whom continue to see him as their champion.

Despite living in exile, Thaksin is known to be the prime mover behind the People Power Party (PPP), which leads the current government and came to power in December general elections on an unabashedly pro-Thaksin platform.

The possibility of a political comeback by Thaksin has prompted the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an alliance of anti-government groups, to hold protests in Bangkok since May, culminating with its seizure in August of Government House, the seat of the executive branch of the government.

Despite the protestors’ increasingly illegal behaviour, the government has been powerless to end the PAD demonstrations, which have the backing of powerful figures within the Bangkok political elite.

A government crackdown on the PAD Oct 7, which left two PAD followers dead and more than 400 injured, prompted the commander-in-chief of Thailand’s army, General Anupong Pasojinda, to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat as a show of responsibility for the violence.

Somchai, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, has so far turned down the general’s suggestion.

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