Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thaksin faces up to 26 years in jail

Bangkok Post:

The Assets Scrutiny Committee will, in two weeks, press four criminal charges against deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for abuse of authority when he was in power, which could land him in jail for 26 years if he is found guilty.

The four charges announced by the ASC yesterday relate to Mr Thaksin's alleged illegal concealment of his share holdings in Shin Corp and his administration allegedly having favoured his company's telecoms businesses.

ASC secretary Kaewsan Atipho said the sub-committees looking into Mr Thaksin's alleged abuse of authority were basing the charges on four cases.

Under the process, the ASC will file the criminal charges with the Attorney-General's Office, which is responsible for taking the cases to court. This would take about two weeks, said Mr Kaewsan.

In the first case, Mr Thaksin allegedly failed to declare to the National Counter Corruption Commission his total Shin Corp shareholdings while in office.

The alleged stake holding concealment also led to the second charge related to the sale of Shin Corp shares by his family to Singapore-based Temasek Holdings.

The ASC has already frozen 66 billion out of the 73 billion baht that Mr Thaksin's family netted from the Shin Corp sale.

In the third case, Mr Thaksin allegedly ordered the issuance of a cabinet resolution in 2003 to convert the mobile-phone operators' concession fee into excise tax that caused about 40 billion baht in damage to two state enterprises, TOT Plc and CAT Telecom Plc.

In the fourth case, the ASC sub-panel found Mr Thaksin allegedly ordered the Export and Import Bank to lend a 900-million-baht soft loan, out of a total of four billion baht, to the Burmese government to improve its infrastructure and telecom sector in 2004. This came with the condition that the Burmese government purchase materials from Shin Corp, said Mr Kaewsan.

After the loan agreement, Burma reportedly contracted Shin Corp's subsidiary, Shin Satellite, to be a major supplier to its 600-million-baht broadband satellite telecoms project.

Altogether, the four charges would make Mr Thaksin liable to a maximum 26 years in jail.

Mr Kaewsan said ASC sub-panels are still investigating three more cases to see whether they can be linked to any abuse of authority by Mr Thaksin.

''Information is being gathered on the three cases from all the officials involved. Up to now there is no evidence linked to Pol Lt-Col Thaksin,'' he said.

One of the three cases involves the reduction in revenue sharing of pre-paid mobile phone services between TOT and private mobile phone operators to 20% from 25%, causing the TOT some 70 billion baht in financial damage.

Another case concerns a contract between Advanced Info Service (AIS) and the TOT that was changed during the Thaksin administration, obliging the TOT, instead of private operators, to bear 25% of mobile phone roaming service costs, costing the TOT 13 billion baht for the contract's term.

The third case is related to the amendment of Shin Satellite's concession which allowed Shin Corp to cut its stake in the firm from 51% to the minimum 40%. The change was seen as an attempt to help foreign investors avoid laws limiting foreign shareholdings in telecom firms to 49%.

The share holding restructuring was allegedly carried out to raise funds for Shin Satellite to launch iPSTAR, the world's largest broadband satellite, for commercial purposes. This was considered to breach a concession contract requiring the firm to launch Thaicom 4, a basic communications satellite.

The ASC sub-panels are questioning people involved in the cases and gathering related evidence.

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