August 11, 2008 / 8:31 AM / in 11 years

Former Thai PM Thaksin skips bail, flees to Britain

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra skipped bail on Monday and went into exile, accusing political enemies who removed him in a 2006 coup of meddling in the courts to “finish off” him and his family.

Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Potjaman Shinawatra (back) wade through an army of photographers at the criminal court in Bangkok July 31, 2008. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

In a hand-written statement faxed to news outlets from his refuge in London, the 59-year-old telecommunications billionaire apologised to the Supreme Court for failing to appear in a corruption case involving him and his wife, Potjaman.

“I must apologise again for deciding to come to live in England. If I am fortunate enough, I will return and die on Thai soil, just like other Thais,” he said.

His decision to flee rather than fight a slew of graft charges lodged since the coup helped lift the stock market 1.8 percent on hopes political temperatures might cool after three years of turmoil.

Thaksin’s former political proteges in the People Power Party (PPP), which only won December’s election thanks to his huge rural popularity, quickly distanced themselves from what now appears to be an irreparably damaged former leader.

“The party is independent. Thaksin’s presence or absence doesn’t have any sway on its direction,” Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee said. Before the coup, Surapong was Thaksin’s spokesman and one of his most trusted aides.

Despite this, analysts saw little let-up for the government from the round-the-clock street protests of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the motley group of royalists, businessmen and Bangkok middle classes united by their hatred of Thaksin.

“Thaksin’s exile is another victory for us, but our ultimate goal is to finish off the Thaksin regime by kicking out his puppet government,” spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan told Reuters.

GONE FOR GOOD

Thaksin said his decision to leave Thailand less than six months after returning from post-coup exile had been forced on him because his foes were meddling in the judicial system “to finish off myself and my family”.

“These are my political enemies. They don’t care about the rule of law, facts or internationally recognised due process,” he said. The Thaksin camp has consistently accused the royalist military elite of orchestrating the coup.

Potjaman was sentenced last month to three years in jail for tax fraud but was freed on bail pending an appeal. The couple’s departure for China with a large amount of luggage immediately after the verdict sparked rumours they were going into exile.

Analysts say it was probably the prospect of his wife doing jail time that forced Thaksin to leave the country.

His parting swipe at the judicial system in defiance of rigidly enforced contempt-of-court laws means he will not be able to return for a long time, analysts said.

“He has defamed the court, and so he’s gone for good,” Thaksin biographer and political analyst Chris Baker said.

The court responded by issuing arrest warrants for the couple and seizing 13 million baht ($385,000) in bail bonds, suggesting Thaksin and Potjaman may find it harder to recover more than $2 billion frozen in Thai banks since the coup.

Thaksin had been due to return to Bangkok from the Olympic Games with his wife on Sunday evening but quietly took a plane to London instead the previous day, an aide said.

He owns British football club Manchester City and has a property in a swish west London district. At least one of his adult children is studying in London.

After his removal by the army in 2006, mainly on the pretext of “rampant corruption”, Thaksin spent much of his time in the British capital, as well as in Hong Kong and Beijing.

The army-appointed interim government looked into trying to extradite him under a bilateral criminal treaty signed with Britain in 1911 but never lodged a formal request.

Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan

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