By Nopporn Wong-Anan
BANGKOK, Aug 1 (Reuters) – It has been a week Thaksin Shinawatra will probably want to forget.
It started with the ousted Thai Prime Minister being charged, along with his entire former cabinet, with breaking gambling laws, and ended with his wife being sentenced to three years in jail for tax fraud.
In between, the Supreme Court agreed to hear charges that he arranged dodgy state loans to Myanmar’s junta in order to benefit his family’s telecoms empire.
But worse may be yet be in store for Thaksin, removed in a 2006 coup on the pretext of “rampant corruption”, and a six-month-old coalition government elected in December but widely seen as his puppet.
More charges and graft trials against him and his inner circle are in the pipeline, and the judiciary — if its form over the last five days is anything to go by — is on a mission.
The contrast could not be greater than during Thaksin’s time in power when the courts were reluctant to tackle Thaksin and his interests out of concern for their own skins, analysts say.
Next week, prosecutors are due to decide whether to ask the Supreme Court to seize 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) in Thaksin bank accounts frozen by anti-graft investigators appointed by the coup leaders.
The same court is also churning through allegations that Thaksin used his influence as prime minister to help his wife win a state auction of a prime plot of land in central Bangkok.
A verdict, expected by the end of the year, would probably involve jail time and has no avenue of appeal.
The turning of the legal tide so swiftly has intensified speculation that Thaksin, exiled after the coup, is trying to cut a deal with his foes in the military and royalist establishment to accept another stint in exile to escape jail.
“If Thaksin doesn’t want to be jailed, he will have to seek asylum,” political analyst Boonyakiat Karavekphan of Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University said.
“The ruling against his wife could have been the other way around if he genuinely quit politics, as he always claims. He may have won election battles, but he will not win these legal battles under the present unusual circumstances.”
“NOT RUNNING AWAY”
Hours after Thursday’s stunning ruling against his wife, Thaksin left for Japan and then China after receiving court permission to give business lectures in Tokyo and attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
His lawyers denied he was fleeing justice and said he would be back in Thailand on Aug. 10, as demanded by the courts.
“There is nothing suspicious about his overseas trip. He won’t run away, but will certainly report himself at the court on Aug. 11,” lawyer Anek Kamchoo told reporters.
As Thaksin struggles for his own survival, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a veteran right-winger who came to power on an avowedly pro-Thaksin ticket, is facing his own battles.
His popularity is at rock bottom, inflation is at a 10-year high and his administration faces a relentless barrage of invective from anti-Thaksin street protesters who see it as nothing but a Thaksin proxy.
To add to his woes, the Thai baht is being pressured by foreign investor sales due to the country’s political roilings and the government is perceived at being at odds with Thailand’s central bank.
Thailand’s National Counter Corruption Commission is presently trying to decide whether the cabinet violated the constitution in supporting Cambodia’s bid to list a disputed 900-year-old temple as a World Heritage site.
If the anti-graft body decides it did, the entire cabinet would be suspended from duty while impeachment proceedings rumble through the Senate — an eventuality created by a 2007 constitution that gives judges huge oversight in the political arena.
Any attempt by Samak to amend this constitution, designed by the military to prevent Thaksin making a comeback, according to most analysts, is only likely to stir up yet more opposition.
(Editing by Ed Cropley and Valerie Lee)