Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thailand's ex-first couple to divorce

Thailand's fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has divorced his wife of 32 years, sealing the separation at the Thai consulate in Hong Kong, news reports said Saturday.

Thaksin, who faces a two-year jail term if he returns to Thailand, announced his divorce from his wife, Pojaman, to political allies who attended a dinner with him in Hong Kong Friday, the Bangkok Post said.

The Thai-language Thai Rath newspaper also carried reports of the separation.

It was unclear why the couple divorced although media reports speculated that it might be a legal move designed to improve the family's efforts to reclaim 76 billion baht ($A3.3 billion) in frozen assets in Thai banks.

Much of the Shinawatra assets are in Pojaman's name. Thaksin, once ranked among Thailand's richest men, made his fortune off government telecommunications concessions.

He used his private fortune to enter politics, setting up the Thai Rak Thai Party, which won the 2001 election on a platform of populist policies and kept him in power until he was toppled in a bloodless military coup in September 2006.

The reported separation comes almost a month after Thailand's Supreme Court for Political Office Holders found Thaksin guilty of abuse of power for allowing his wife to bid on a prime plot of Bangkok land at a government auction in 2003 when he was prime minister.

Although the court found Thaksin guilty and sentenced him to two years in jail, Pojaman was cleared of corruption charges in the case because she was not a public office holder.

However, in August, Thailand's Criminal Court found Pojaman guilty of tax evasion and sentenced her to three years in prison.

Thaksin and Pojaman fled to London on August 11 after receiving court permission to travel to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Their three children joined them in the British capital, where the family owns property.

But the Shinawatras' future was thrown into flux earlier this month when Britain revoked Thaksin's and Pojaman's tourist visas in response to the verdicts against them.

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