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Thailand's high court seizes $1.4 billion from former PM Thaksin Shinawatra

In a blow to Thailand's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, the Supreme Court seized $1.4 billion of his fortune. His allies have vowed ongoing street protests.

By Correspondent / February 26, 2010

A supporter of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra waits for news at one of their headquarters Friday in Bangkok. Thailand's supreme court Friday seized $1.4 billion worth of assets belonging to Thaksin's family, about $900 million less than the maximum, in a decision that could appease some antigovernment forces.

Sukree Sukplang/Reuters

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Bangkok, Thailand

In a closely watched verdict, Thailand’s Supreme Court has confiscated $1.4 billion seized in 2006 from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom it ruled had become “unusually rich” in office.

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The ruling is a blow to Mr. Thaksin, who had protested his innocence. And it seems unlikely to call a halt to a protracted power struggle between Thaksin allies and Thai conservatives aligned to the influential monarchy.

The court ruled that Thaksin and his wife had illegally concealed their ownership of Thailand’s largest mobile phone company during his five-year rule. It found that several government policies were crafted specifically to benefit companies in Shin Corp, the family’s conglomerate, at a substantial cost to taxpayers. The company was sold in January 2006 to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

An additional $900 million of Thaksin’s fortune was ordered to be unfrozen, in theory returning it to its owner. But the guilty verdict potentially opens the door to further criminal charges against the former leader, who lives in exile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Biased court?

The verdict underscores the role of Thailand’s judiciary in adjudicating a deep-rooted political dispute that has paralyzed a longtime American ally in Asia. Since a 2006 coup that removed Thaksin, he and his allies have lost a string of important court cases, while his opponents have largely been spared. This has fueled frustration among his supporters over judicial bias and political interference by royalist officials whom they accuse of persecuting a democratically elected leader.

“This confirms what people already think they know, that they’re going all out to stop [Thaksin]. I don’t think that it changes anything at all,” says Michael Montesano, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Government officials and media outlets have urged the public to accept the judges’ decision. In recent weeks, security forces have gone on high alert for large gatherings by pro-Thaksin protesters who had vowed to take to the streets. But there was little sign Friday of any mass protests and only a few hundred supporters rallied across the street from the court.

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