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Thai graft-busters freeze Thaksin’s assets

THAILAND: Thailand’s anti-graft panel said it would freeze assets held by ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his family, totalling at least 52.9 billion baht (1.52 billion dollars).

The Assets Examination Committee (AEC), which the junta set up after taking power last year, said it would block 21 accounts that hold the profits from the controversial sale of Thaksin’s Shin Corp telecom giant to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

The committee also ordered a freeze on an unspecified number of personal accounts held by Thaksin and his wife Pojaman, the panel’s spokesman Sak Korsaengruang told reporters.

“Today’s decision to freeze their assets is not politically motivated. The committee has evidence that Thaksin broke the law,” committee member Kaesan Athipho told reporters.

Thaksin quickly threatened to sue for the return of his assets, with his lawyer Noppadol Pattama saying the former premier “strongly feels that he was treated unfairly and illegally by the AEC.”

“We will put together a good team of lawyers to file legal suits against all key members of the AEC and reclaim the majority of the assets frozen by the committee,” he told AFP.

“They lack evidence. We are confident that we will prevail in the court,” he added. The decision nevertheless delivers a sharp new blow to Thaksin less than two weeks after a top military-appointed court disbanded his political party and barred him and 110 other top members from Thai politics for five years.

The court’s move to dissolve Thai Rak Thai has sparked daily protests against the junta that ousted him last September.

Some 8,000 Thaksin supporters took to a plaza in central Bangkok late Monday, chanting “Junta, get out!” Organisers put the crowd at 30,000 and said they believed the committee’s decision would only embolden the demonstrators, who plan a major rally on June 24.

Thaksin’s family made 73.2 billion baht when it sold Shin Corp to Temasek in a tax-free deal in January 2006, but only 52.9 billion baht remains in the 21 accounts targeted by the graft-busters, Kaesan said.

The committee declined to estimate how many other private accounts Thaksin and Pojaman might hold, or how much money might be in them, but ordered banks in Thailand to freeze all accounts in their names.

Thaksin made a fortune from Shin Corp before he entered politics. The telecom company eventually grew to include cell phones, satellites, an Internet service and even a stake in an airline. Ukrist Pathmanrand, of Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Asian Studies, said the assets freeze would help justify the coup in the eyes of the Thai public.

“They gathered enough evidence after a long process of investigation to make sure that those accused by the junta did commit wrongdoings,” Ukrist told AFP.

“Now, the junta has justified the coup.” For Thaksin’s lawyer Noppadol, the move “damages Thailand’s reputation in the international arena. It was another action to discredit Thaksin and his wife.”

Bangkok, Tuesday, AFP

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