Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ooops! Missed the flight back to Thailand...

Ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and Khunying Potjamarn have fled to London and will not be back for their court cases, a close supporter said on Sunday after the couple failed to catch their scheduled flight back from Beijing to Bangkok.

The couple were to catch Thai Airways International Flight 615, which arrived on time at Bangkok at 9:45pm on Sunday - without the high-level passengers on board.

Reports they would catch another flight looked like disinformation. People Power party MP Pracha Prasobdee said the couple would not return, despite promises from them and their spokesmen, including Mr Pracha himself.

The Samut Prakan MP told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport that Mr Thaksin will make a statement from London at 9am Thailand time on Monday, an hour before he and his wife were ordered to return and report to the Supreme Court on charges they face separately and together.

The couple were due to report to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on Monday morning for a hearing on their trials in the Ratchadaphisek land deal.

Two other cases against Mr Thaksin - the digit lottery case and the Exim Bank soft loan to Burma - are pending in the same court.

Five other cases against Mr Thaksin and his cronies are with the Office of the Attorney-General.

Flight to London and semi-permanent exile may cause Mr Thaksin and his wife to lose their bail and even cost them them 69 billion baht in frozen funds, it might also be good for the country.

"If Thaksin really doesn't come back, the conflict in our country will lessen, which implies that our prolonged political trouble will come to an end soon," Kavee Chukitkasem, head of research at Bangkok brokerage Kasikorn Securities, said.

"The markets should definitely rise tomorrow," he added.

Last Thursday, the Stock Exchange of Thailand surged by 4 per cent on rumours the couple would be headed into exile. Business circles, at least, believe political tension will easy significantly if the couple stay away for a lengthy time.

Thaksin lawyers were quoted by NBT TV news as saying the couple would be represented in court on Monday morning as scheduled - but did not say they would be there in person.

They do not need to be present for the land trial to continue on schedule for now.

Kriangkrai Juengjaturapit, chief judge of the Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, said if the couple fail to turn up today their lawyers must offer an explanation to the court.

"If there are no reasons given, or the reasons are not good enough, the court will consider that they have the intention of fleeing and they will face arrest warrants," Mr Kriangkrai said.

The court would then continue the trial of the couple in absentia until a verdict is given, he said.

If the couple fail to appear on the day the verdict is given, the reading of the verdict will be adjourned for 30 days.

After that, if the two still do not show up, the court will read out the verdict in their absence, Mr Kriangkrai said.

"Until now, there have been no reports that Thaksin and Khunying Potjaman will report to the court, or that they will lodge a request to go overseas," Mr Kriangkrai said.

The lawyers told NBT on Sunday Mr Thaksin had ordered his legal team to prepare to fight all charges against him, including the two- and three-digit lottery case, and the four billion baht loan granted to Burma.

The deposed premier also ordered the legal team to prepare to file lawsuits against core leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and Kraisak Choonhavan, a Democrat party list MP and former senator, on defamation charges.

Their son and daughter, Mr Panthongtae and Miss Pinthongta, had earlier flown to England to meet their parents, a Thai newspaper reported.

Mr Thaksin and Khunying Potjamarn had attended the opening of the Olympic Games on Friday evening.

Rumours they were preparing to go into exile dominated Bangkok political circles last week. Their spokesmen have repeatedly said the duo will be back and make their court appearance and lawyers encouraged that charade by detailing alleged plans to ask the court for permission for another trip abroad..

But on Sunday, both Pongthep Thepkanchana and Sansanee Nakpong were unavailable, their mobile phones switched off and their credibility likely ruined.

Background report:

The following story appeared in Saturday's Bangkok Post (Aug 9, 2008):

Thaksin asylum bid talk swirls

By Pradit Ruangdit and Wichit Chantanusornsiri

A question mark still hangs over whether former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Khunying Potjaman will return to Thailand to face legal proceedings, with speculation rife the couple may seek asylum.

They were in Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics yesterday.

It was reported that the couple may go into exile overseas to escape the legal proceedings awaiting them at home.

The couple are being tried at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions for alleged wrongdoing in the Ratchadaphisek land deal.

Two other cases against Mr Thaksin _ the lottery case and the Exim Bank loan to Burma _ are pending in the same court.

Five other cases against Mr Thaksin and his cronies are with the Office of the Attorney-General.

Thaksin: Colleague says he will be back

On July 31, the Criminal Court found Khunying Potjaman guilty of conspiring to evade tax totalling 546 million baht in the transfer of shares in the Shinawatra Computer and Communication company. She was sentenced to three years in jail and was later released on bail.

Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee, one of the couple's closest aides, said he talked with people in close contact with Mr Thaksin about rumours the couple would seek political asylum, but the truth has yet to be established.

"Some denied the rumour, others confirmed it," Mr Surapong said.

Arisman Pongruangrong, a former Thai Rak Thai MP, said Mr Thaksin and Khunying Potjaman will definitely return to Thailand after the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games.

They have booked seats on a flight from Beijing to Bangkok tomorrow, Mr Arisman said.

"His return will go according to schedule. Mr Thaksin confirmed that he will come back to fight all the cases in Thailand. He has never thought of seeking asylum as has been rumoured," said Mr Arisman.

A source at the Supreme Court said if the couple fail to turn up on Monday to report to a panel of judges handling the Ratchadaphisek land case, the judges may issue arrest warrants for them and may conduct the trial of the couple in absentia.

"Actually, the defendants' testimonies have no bearing on the trial. The defendants have denied the allegations all along. It depends on the evidence," the source said.

Meanwhile, Sakda Khongphet, a leader of the Isan Pattana faction of the People Power party (PPP), said he will give evidence showing misconduct by top people in the party to the National Counter Corruption Commission.

The Isan Pattana group has exposed the rise of the so-called "gang of four" within the PPP, whom it has accused of trying to dominate the party and cashing in on state projects to prepare for the next election.

The gang is believed to comprise Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, his secretary-general Theerapol Nopparampa, Dr Surapong and Newin Chidchob, a veteran MP who controls a large PPP faction of northeastern MPs.

The Isan Pattana faction claims the gang of four, guided by Mr Newin, is planning to form a coalition government with the Democrats if the PPP is dissolved.

"He [Mr Thaksin] told me that he has been aware of the movements of the gang of four and he said he felt hurt," Mr Sakda said.

However, Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban denied any knowledge of the plan.

A PPP source said Mr Thaksin sent his younger sister, Yingluck, to talk to Mr Newin and his group of MPs during a meeting of the party's northeastern MPs led by Mr Newin on Thursday.

The group is called "Newin's friends".

Maha Sarakham MP Suthin Klangsaeng, a member of the group, said Ms Yingluck explained that Mr Thaksin had nothing to do with the moves of the Isan Pattana group.

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