BANGKOK (AFP) — The wife of Thailand's ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned Tuesday to defend herself in court against charges of corruption, as her husband insisted on their innocence.
Pojaman Shinawatra, a shrewd political player in her own right, arrived in Thailand with her husband's political allies facing legal hurdles to forming a new government despite their victory in last month's general elections.
She was immediately escorted by police to the Supreme Court to face corruption charges and then to the special investigations unit of the justice ministry to hear fraud charges.
A short while later she was released after posting a total of six million baht (178,000 dollars) in bail. Pojaman smiled at the throngs of reporters who followed her every move but said nothing.
Dressed in a black suit and dark sunglasses, Pojaman was accompanied by her three children and waved to the handful of supporters who had gathered to greet her.
The 51-year-old has spent more than six months overseas with her husband while investigators here piled charges against them.
"She came here today to prove her innocence," her lawyer Noppadon Pattama told reporters after the court hearing.
Noppadon told AFP Pojaman would go to Bangkok's Grand Palace later in the day to pay her respects to Princess Galyani, who died of cancer last week at age 84. The princess was the sister of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Pojaman and Thaksin are both charged with corruption in the purchase of a plot of prime Bangkok real estate. Investigators say Pojaman used her husband's political influence to buy the land from a government agency at one-third of its estimated value.
They are also accused of making fraudulent filings to securities regulators in 2003 when they listed a property firm on the local exchange.
Pojaman, her step-brother Banpot Damapong and her personal secretary Kanchanapa Honghern also face additional criminal charges of tax evasion.
Conviction on any of the charges could result in prison sentences.
Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile since the military toppled his government in a bloodless coup in September 2006, but on Tuesday he again vowed to return home to defend himself in court once the political situation settles.
"I have long said that I will return to Thailand to prove my innocence and to fight for justice, but I do not want to trigger any conflicts that would worsen the situation," Thaksin said in a statement on his website.
"I want to reassure you that when the appropriate time comes, I will return to Thailand to prove the innocence of myself and my family."
His allies in the People Power Party (PPP) emerged from elections last month just shy of a majority in parliament, but the military-appointed Election Commission has opened dozens of vote fraud investigations that threaten their ability to form a new government.
Pojaman rarely speaks in public, but is widely seen as an important partner in Thaksin's vast political and business interests, and is a trusted trouble-shooter when things go wrong.
While Thaksin has stayed abroad since the coup, Pojaman has shuttled in and out of the country, managing his affairs here and then travelling to meet him as he travels the world.
Analysts said her return would give a boost to the PPP as it tries to fight off the vote fraud claims while wooing partners for a coalition government.
"The purpose of her return is to boost moral support for PPP as the party is having difficulties," said Ukrist Pathmanand, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.
"By merely showing up in Bangkok, Pojaman was directly offering her support for the PPP."
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