Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thailand's Thaksin Running out of money and places to hide

Posted: 18 Feb 2010 06:36 PM PST

February 19, 2010
By Thanong Khanthong
The Nation

FUGITIVE former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's whereabouts are mostly unknown, as he is concerned about his safety. After visiting Uganda to launch Go Lotto, the latest gambling craze in town there, it was reported that Thaksin had gone back to Dubai. But is he really in Dubai?

The Observer, an online newspaper from Uganda, reported in its February 17 edition that Thaksin was in Uganda for the launch of Go Lotto. Thaksin serves as chairman of the Advisory Board to Global PS Lotto. During his Thai premiership, Thaksin introduced the two-digit and three-digit lotteries, much to the delight of lottery-addicted Thais. The interim Surayud Chulanont government, which came to power after Thaksin was ousted in the September 2006 coup, scrapped the two-digit and three-digit lotteries.

Wearing a red shirt and red sports jacket, Thaksin presided over the bonanza event in Uganda, handing out prizes to lucky winners, including a Toyota car. "Each time I come here, I appreciate more and more why Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. I am very excited about launching this service in Uganda and I hope that Go Lotto will benefit the people of Uganda," he said.

The Observer reported that Global PS Lotto Investment chose Uganda because the lotto project worked in Thailand and Thaksin wants to repeat the success in Uganda. About 30 per cent of net proceeds from the lotto will go to social development and other programmes in Uganda, such as education, sports and healthcare.

"I feel very passionate in these areas, and with my experience in Thailand, where I introduced the lotto while still the prime minister, we got millions in revenue that I used to develop these sectors. I hope that by bringing Go Lotto to Uganda, similar benefits can be achieved here," Thaksin said.

The Observer further wrote that in late 2008, it was reported that the UK had frozen US$4.2 billion (Bt139.4 billion) of Thaksin's assets. However, the UK government has not confirmed or denied this claim, it said.

One Thai official told me that Thaksin can no longer use Dubai as his political base because he is facing complications arising from his financial arrangements there. But Thaksin still gives the impression that he is using Dubai as his home base. In fact, he is spending more time in Africa and elsewhere, including Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has emerged as Thaksin's strongest international ally.

It is believed that the UK authorities have indeed frozen about $4.2 billion of Thaksin's assets and might have already seized this huge amount. The complication is that Dubai money is also part of the $4.2 billion that has been frozen or seized. When Thaksin bought Manchester City Football Club, with a grander plan to acquire a casino licence, he co-invested with Dubai money. Since the money transferred into the UK came under nominee names and from dubious origins, the UK authorities ordered a freeze of those accounts totalling more than $4.2 billion. The Dubai money also got trapped in the same web. During that same period in late 2008, the UK also denied Thaksin and his wife Pojaman visas to enter the country.

I understand that nobody has shown up to claim that he or she is the beneficiary owner of the $4.2 billion frozen in the UK. It is not in the interests of the UK to place this incident in the public domain, since this amount could conveniently go into state coffers. Having somebody showing up to reclaim this money would pose a big legal challenge.

Since the Dubai money has also been mixed up and trapped in the freeze, this probably explains why Thaksin is having a difficult relationship with Dubai, where he can no longer claim a home base. Thaksin has also reportedly lost a big amount in his investments in Dubai, which is suffering an economic meltdown.

It is no surprise that Thaksin is making an all-out effort to secure the return of his Bt76 billion currently frozen in Thailand. The Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on the matter on February 26. Thaksin's desperate situation has turned into a national complication, with tensions escalating between the red shirts and the Thai military. This tension will play out well ahead of, or after, the Supreme Court's "Judgement Day".

A potential clash is looming.

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