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Will Thaksin return to Thailand to protect his assets?

Updated On: Jun 15, 2007

This is the burning question in Thailand now. Yet there is much mystery whether or not ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will actually do so.

On Tuesday, 12 June, Thai banks froze all the accounts belonging to Thaksin, his wife and the twenty-one accounts held by his children and other relatives after “a formal directive from the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC)”, the Bangkok Post noted. However, interest will “continue to accrue, as the accounts [are only] frozen and withdrawals or transfers restricted, instead of an outright seizure of the funds by the state”. The assets frozen amount to more than Bt.52b.

The reason for this crackdown is because Thaksin “has been found to have held ‘ghost accounts’ for both stocks and cash transactions in overseas banking and stockbroking institutions”, the Bangkok Post noted. As opposed to Thaksin’s claim that he had “transferred all of his business interests to his children before entering politics in 2001”, it has been discovered that “Thaksin still held banking and stock accounts in overseas financial institutions during the period leading up to his sale of Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings of Singapore”. This means that Thaksin directly benefited from all the commercial transactions the Shinawatras were involved in during his term of leadership.

PM Surayud Chulanont was nonchalant to a possibility of Thaksin returning to defend his assets, saying, “He does not need to ask for permission from the government or the CNS (Council for National Security). He is a Thai and is free to enter and leave the country.” He added that it was not the government’s job to prepare for Thaksin’s return –the police were competent to deal with any ensuing chaos. Nonetheless, Surayud advised that “Thaksin should inform the ASC of his tentative schedule to allow proper coordination”.

On the part of the police, acting police chief Gen. Seriphisut Temiyavet said that the “police have no power to stop Thaksin from returning to Thailand or to arrest him if he does” as there is no arrest warrant. However, according to the Bangkok Post, the ASC is “trying to have courts issue such a warrant”. Seriphisut added that the police would give Thaksin full protection if he returned as there was a high possibility of public recrimination and demonstration.

Physical danger to Thaksin has been a point also stressed by CNS chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin. On Wednesday, 13 June, the Nation reported Sonthi as declaring, “I think it's a political ploy. I don't think he will really come back… because although people love him, many dislike him. He doesn't have to take a risk. If I were rich like him, I would not rush to come back.” 

The implicit threat of impending danger to Thaksin’s return has caused Thaksin’s lawyer, Noppadon Pattama, to change tune.  He had earlier complained that the freezing of assets would compel him “to come back quickly to fight the charges” as he “has 60 days to counter the asset freeze, in person or through his representative”. But after Sonthi’s statement, Noppadon announced in a radio interview, “Everyone fears death. I fear death… If the premier or the Council for National Security do not guarantee his safety, then I think he should not come back now.” The Bangkok Post noted that Noppadon intends to “inform Thaksin about the political situation and advise him not to return early”.

All these speculations about whether Thaksin will return or not has been going on since his ouster. It remains conjecture whether or not he will come back to Thailand; although the freezing of his assets seems an urgent enough issue to force him to return. Nonetheless, it seems that Thaksin has more than enough money on his side –he is said to have bought a US$27 million house in Hong Kong earlier this year and that Bt.8b had gone missing from his account shortly before the freezing order was carried out, the Nation said.  However, Thaksin denied that he bought the house in Hong Kong, though he still appeared keen and cash rich enough to want to buy the Manchester City football club.  (14 June 2007)

Sources:

Police: We can't arrest Thaksin (Bangkok Post, 14 June 2007)

Thaksin not to return early for safety concern (Bangkok Post, 14 June 2007)

Bt8 bn more goes missing (Nation, 14 June 2007)

Thaksin's $27 mln Hong Kong home (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2007)

Sonthi dares Thaksin to return (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2007)

PM: Thaksin allowed home (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2007)

Local banks freeze Thaksin accounts after panel's order (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2007)

Exiled PM has "ghost accounts”: sources (Nation, 13 June 2007)

Sonthi says Thaksin could be in danger if he returns (Nation, 13 June 2007)

Thaksin still wants to buy Man City: lawyer(Nation, 13 June 2007)