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Thaksin’s wife found guilty of tax evasion

THAILAND: The wife of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was found guilty Thursday of evading millions of dollars in taxes and sentenced to three years in prison.

The landmark ruling against Pojaman Shinawatra strikes a major blow to Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and has long denied any wrongdoing by his family in the tax case and several other corruption cases against his inner circle.

“The defendants are high-profile and wealthy citizens,” the judge said. Pojaman’s husband “was the leader of the country and she is obligated to pay taxes as a model for society.”

“But the defendants lied, cheated and conspired to evade taxes, which is regarded as a serious crime,” the judge said.

The 51-year-old former first lady, in a pale blue suit and strand of pearls, looked stunned as the judge pronounced the verdict. She was promptly released on 5 million baht (US$149,000) bail and walked out of the Bangkok Criminal Court with her family into a waiting car.

Thaksin’s spokesman, Pongthep Thepkanjana, said lawyers planned to appeal.

“Thaksin is not disheartened,” he said. “They respect the court ruling but it is not the end. We will fight until the end.”

Pojaman, her brother and secretary were convicted of evading millions of dollars in taxes in 1997 through a complicated transfer of shares in the family’s flagship business that involved placing stocks in the name of one of the family’s maids.

The court also sentenced her brother, Bhanapot Damapong, to three years in prison and the secretary to two years.

All three had pleaded innocent.

More than 300 police were deployed in the area amid concerns of possible protests by both Thaksin’s supporters and opponents. More than 1,000 supporters mobbed the family as they exited the court.

Thaksin was ousted after being accused of massive corruption and abuse of power during his two terms as prime minister. Four corruption cases have been filed in the courts against Thaksin, two others against his wife, and three cases against two of his children. Many others are under investigation.

Thursday’s case centered on a 1997 transfer of shares in Shinawatra Computer, the company that later became Shin Corp. - Thailand’s biggest telecommunications company - before it was sold in 2006 to a Singapore state-owned company for US$2.2 billion.

The share transfer was valued at 738 million baht - about US$22.2 million at the current exchange rate - and deemed tax-free. The family had listed the deal as a transfer of shares carried out within the stock market, which is exempt from capital gains taxes.

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