Fugitive ex-Thai PM to get passport back soon: minister

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 02, 2011 1:33 AM
Fugitive ex-Thai PM to get passport back soon: minister

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's self-exiled, fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could be reissued his Thai passport within weeks as a "New Year present" from the government, the country's foreign minister said on Friday.

Thaksin, who lives in Dubai to avoid jail in Thailand, should be granted a regular Thai passport because no court order was issued to revoke it when he fled in 2008, Surapong Towijakchaikul said.

"We are considering returning the passport to former prime minister Thaksin and we expect to be able to do so within weeks," Surapong told reporters.

"To be fair we are reviewing the laws and we found that the action is possible ... it could be a New Year's present."

Thaksin, a twice-elected telecoms billionaire who once owned English Premier League soccer club Manchester City, is one of the world's most well-known fugitives and travels on passports issued by Nicaragua and Montenegro.

He went to England shortly before a court handed down in absentia a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power for helping his then wife, Pojamarn Na Pombejra, purchase some prime Bangkok land from a state agency.

He was pursued aggressively by the previous government, but many of the countries he visited ignored extradition requests.

His fortunes changed in July when a party stacked with his allies and led by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was swept to power in an election landslide.

But the move to re-issue his passport is likely to cause a stir in Thailand, where Thaksin has powerful enemies among the military and conservative establishment, making him central to six years of on-off political turmoil.

They accuse Thaksin of corruption, cronyism, terrorism and disloyalty to the monarchy, but he denies the charges and his "red shirt" supporters say his rivals plotted to overthrow him in a 2006 coup and pressured the courts to convict him.

A mooted plan to amend an amnesty law that would have made Thaksin eligible to return to Thailand a free man was aborted by the government two weeks ago after it prompted an outcry from the opposition party and anti-Thaksin groups.

The country's justice minister said the amendment plan never existed and had been "dreamt up" by a "frantic" media.

(Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)