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Thai police charge Thaksin with concealing assets

THAILAND: Police ordered exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand to face charges that he concealed his ownership of millions of dollars worth of shares from the Thai stock exchange.

The order that he report by June 29 came just a day after state prosecutors said they would seek to have him and his wife tried for a suspicious land deal. In addition, an anti-graft panel has ordered 60.88 billion baht (US$1.88 billion; euro1.40 billion) of his assets frozen on suspicion they were gained in an illicit manner.

Thaksin became a billionaire in the telecommunications sector before entering politics and serving as prime minister in 2001-2006.

Sunai Manomaiudom, director-general of the Department of Special Investigations, said police had strong evidence that Thaksin and his wife had secretly held shares through nominee companies in SC Asset Corp.

PCL - then a Shinawatra family real estate company. The company’s market capitalization as of Monday was about 3.05 billion baht (US$94.5 million; euro70.5 million).

Sunai said they must present themselves to police between June 26 and June 29. “If he intentionally refuses to come, we will issue an arrest warrant,” said Sunai, who added that the case had nothing to do with politics.

The order gives Thaksin a deadline for returning home for the first time since he was ousted in a bloodless Sep. 19, 2006 coup while he was in New York. He has divided his time since then between a residence in London and travel around Asia. His wife and other family members continue to live in Thailand, but frequently travel abroad.

Thaksin was ousted after demonstrations calling for him to step down because of alleged corruption and abuse of power. Another business deal by his family, the 73.3 billion baht (US$1.9 billion; euro1.55 billion at January 2006 rates of exchange) sale last year of telecommunications company Shin Corp. to a Singapore state investment company, contributed to public discontent.

The military has strongly discouraged Thaksin’s return, fearing it will cause political instability by rallying his loyalists. Last week, army commander Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin said the former prime minister might be harmed by his enemies if he returned to Thailand now.

But Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont told reporters Tuesday that the government would ensure Thaksin’s safety if he returned.

“He has the right to explain and he should be considered innocent for now. I want everything to proceed according to the justice system,” he said.

Thaksin’s lawyer and de facto spokesman in Thailand, Noppadol Pattama, quoted Thaksin as saying that he “is ready to follow the law and the courts’ orders.” But he declined to comment on the charges, and would not specifically say if Thaksin will return by the police deadline.

Thaksin, his wife Pojamarn, and her sister-in-law Bussaba Damapong - a former SC Asset executive - were charged with violating regulations requiring disclosure of corporate information to the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Thaksin and his wife are charged with violating disclosure rules by failing to report the sale of shares they controlled - an offense that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of 500,000 baht (US$15,500; euro11,600).

Sunai said police also found evidence that Thaksin violated a law on Cabinet members holding company shares, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a 1 million baht (US$31,000; euro23,000) fine.

Serving ministers are not allowed to hold more than 5 percent of company shares or to be involved in company management.

Sunai said police would forward their evidence on that charge to the National Counter-Corruption Commission, which could recommend prosecution.

Asked if what would happen if Thaksin did not appear by the deadline, Sunai said that so long as Thailand’s attorney-general approved Thaksin’s indictment in absentia, he could request Thaksin’s extradition.

Bangkok, Wednesday, AP

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