BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand issued arrest warrants on Monday for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife, after the billionaire couple refused to return home to stand trial for corruption.
The pair snubbed a summons to appear before the Supreme Court and instead issued a statement read on state television, saying unnamed political enemies had conspired to deny them justice and that they would stay in Britain for now.
Thaksin, a telecoms tycoon turned politician, and his wife Pojaman both face a raft of corruption cases that were instigated by a military junta which overthrew him in September 2006.
After vowing to fight the charges against him in a high-profile homecoming in February that ended 18 months of self-imposed exile, the 59-year-old former premier said Monday he could not do that from within Thailand.
"My wife and I will stay in England where democracy is more important," Thaksin said in a hand-written statement released to the media.
"Obvious judicial interference and double standards caused me and my family to receive no justice ... What happened to me and my family and my close relations resulted from efforts to get rid of me from politics."
Thaksin, who was first elected in 2001, accused an unnamed group "who see me as their political enemy" of fixing the system so that his foes were appointed to investigate graft charges against him.
The former premier and his wife were in China over the weekend for the opening of the Beijing Olympics, and rumours had circulated that they would remain overseas as the graft cases mounted against them.
Pojaman was convicted on July 31 of tax evasion and released on bail, and the couple had been ordered to appear before the Supreme Court on Monday to defend themselves in a separate property case.
Thaksin stands accused of using his influence to win a bargain-priced property deal for Pojaman in 2003.
After they failed to appear, the court said: "The panel judge has... found that the two defendants are not returning to Thailand or presenting themselves to the court by the deadline, which violates their bail conditions.
"The court has decided to confiscate their (bail) money ... and issue arrest warrants for the two defendants."
Thaksin and Pojaman have paid a total of 13 million baht (386,000 dollars) between them in bail related to the land case.
They had received permission from the courts to travel, and a former legal advisor close to Thaksin said they had now both flown to Britain, where Thaksin owns Manchester City football club and spent most of his time in exile.
"I expected everything would be better, that I might have a chance to prove my innocence and receive a fair trial when I returned to Thailand," Thaksin said. "But the situation became worse."
He did not indicate when he intended to return to Thailand, urging his supporters "to be patient for a short while".
"If I have a chance, I will come back to die on Thai ground," he said.
The Supreme Court has also agreed to hear two other cases against Thaksin -- one linked to a state lottery scheme his government legalised in 2003 and another tied to a loan Thaksin's government gave to Myanmar.
Elections last December swept Thaksin's allies in the People Power Party (PPP) back into government, infuriating the elites in the military, palace and bureaucracy who felt threatened by his popularity with voters in rural areas.
However, street protests have so far scuppered the PPP's plans to amend the new constitution -- brought in under military rule -- which currently grants wide power to non-elected officials in the courts and bureaucracy.
Thailand's courts have dealt a series of blows to the new government, with three top officials forced to resign after legal decisions.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Bangkok-based political analyst, said it remained to be seen whether the divisive former leader's exile would cool tensions in the kingdom, but said the game was over for Thaksin.
"He has insurmountable legal entanglements now -- he is politically finished," he told AFP.
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