BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military government is seeking to collect at least 12 billion baht ($360 million) in unpaid taxes and penalties from a prime minister toppled in a coup 11 years ago, in what his supporters consider a continuing political vendetta.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Wednesday that in order to avoid a March 31 legal deadline on collecting the money, the Revenue Department will present a formal tax assessment covering Thaksin Shinawatra's sale of shares in his telecommunications company to a Singapore state holding company, which will keep alive the government's claim on the money.
The sale totaled 73.3 billion baht ($1.88 billion). His supporters have challenged the tax bill, saying it is politically motivated and not justified by law.
Thai authorities have sought payment from Thaksin for years but he lives in exile in Dubai, out of the reach of Thai law.
"We don't even know yet whether we can get the taxes, but we're happy we found a way out," said Wissanu. "It's a gray area ... we'll let the courts decide."
Thaksin was ousted in 2006 after public demonstrations accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last year. His supporters say Thailand's political establishment ousted him because his popularity was a threat to their own influence.
The coup set off a long, sometimes violent struggle between his supporters and opponents, with the military gaining the upper hand when it staged another coup in 2014 against his sister, who was elected prime minister in 2011.
Thaksin in 2008 was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on a conflict of interest charge. In 2010, the Supreme Court ordered $1.4 billion of his assets seized for concealing his ownership of the family telecommunication group and tailoring government policies for his own financial gain.
Since the 2014 coup, the government has also pursued several major legal cases against his sister.
Such actions, along with rewriting the constitution and other laws, are widely seen as efforts to prevent a political comeback by Thaksin.
As the statute of limitations approached on collecting the tax bill, Thai authorities have scrambled to find a way to keep their claim alive, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordering government ministries to expedite collection of the money or find a workaround.
"The issue involves a complicated set of plans and I spent more than a week trying to make sense of it," Prayuth said at a news conference Tuesday.