Friday, June 5, 2009

Stay by Thai ex-premier Thaksin in Germany triggers fury

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Berlin - A previously unnoticed sojourn by former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra in Germany at the start of this year upset Bangkok and triggered fury in Berlin, a German newspaper reported Friday.

Thailand has sentenced billionaire Thaksin in absentia to two years' prison for conflict of interest. He has moved around the world, always one step ahead of arrest warrants from his homeland.

The Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Thaksin had last summer obtained a 90-day visa to visit Germany. Then, on December 29, 2008 in Bonn, he obtained a one-year residency permit, picking it up in person without federal officials noticing.

The newspaper said the permit was cancelled at Berlin's demand on May 28. It was not clear from the report where Thaksin was living now. The paper said he was using a Nicaraguan diplomatic passport. His Thai passport has been revoked.

Thaksin, who ruled from 2001 to 2006, was deposed in a military coup and continues to be revered by Thailand's populist red-shirt protest movement.

The Sueddeutsche said the discovery that a Bonn immigration office had issued Thaksin a permit triggered inter-agency suspicions in the German federal government. But neither the Foreign Ministry nor the BND foreign-intelligence service had known about the permit.

It said the billionaire, who stated he was living in Bonn's elegant suburb of Bad Godesberg, had been accompanied to the immigration office by a respected lawyer, a retired German police commander and a freelance troubleshooter, Werner Mauss.

It said the clerk was given to understand that Mauss, 69, represented the BND. German diplomats, furious that German relations with Thailand had been endangered, initially accused the BND of engineering the visa. But Mauss had apparently acted independently.

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