Thaksin faces lese majeste peril

Thaksin faces lese majeste peril

Criminal cases may be revived under new law

Attorney-General Khemchai Chutiwongs: I believe the cases [against him] can be revived.
Attorney-General Khemchai Chutiwongs: I believe the cases [against him] can be revived.

Public prosecutors have decided to indict former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on a lese majeste charge and vowed to revive pending criminal cases against him under a new organic law that allows for the trials of fugitive politicians to be held in absentia.

Attorney-General Khemchai Chutiwongs, who took the post on Sunday, said on Friday his predecessor Pongniwat Yuthapanboriparn recommended an indictment against Thaksin for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lese majeste law.

Mr Khemchai served as the deputy attorney-general before succeeding Mr Pongniwat, who has now retired.

The move against Thaksin comes after another former attorney-general, Trakul Winitnaiyapak, who retired at the end of September 2015, set up a panel of prosecutors to work with the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to investigate the case.

In 2015, the TCSD gathered evidence against Thaksin, accusing him of breaking the lese majeste law as well as the Computer Crime Act. Those offences were alleged to have been committed overseas. Thaksin is believed to be living in self-exile in Dubai.

The case followed media interviews Thaksin gave to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Seoul on May 20, 2015. In the interview, he linked privy councillors to the May 22, 2014 military coup that ousted the Pheu Thai-led government. Thaksin was ousted in an earlier coup in 2006.

Mr Khemchai said the next step would be for state prosecutors to request the TCSC issue a warrant for Thaksin's arrest. Extradition proceedings will be launched if his whereabouts can be confirmed, he added.

"I believe the cases [against him] can be revived," the new deputy attorney-general said, adding that a new organic law on criminal procedures for political office holders would facilitate this.

Unlike the old law, Section 28 of this law allows for cases against indicted politicians to be held in absentia. It can also be applied retroactively.

One of the highest-profile cases to be affected is the Krungthai Bank (KTB) loan scandal, in which Thaksin was named the first defendant. He fled before the trial started in 2012.

Another case involves his government's conversion of mobile phone operators' concession fees into an excise tax. The Supreme Court suspended the case due to Thaksin's absence.

Mr Khemchai was referring to the organic law on criminal procedures for political office holders which took effect on Sept 29.

It is among 10 organic laws the Constitution Drafting Committee needs to draw up to complement the new constitution.

He said Section 69 stipulates that provisions under the organic law can be applied to cases filed and proceeded before the law was enacted. Any subsequent proceedings must also comply with the new law.

Mr Khemchai said he believed pending cases should be revived and forwarded to the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders, and that he will set up a working panel to handle this.

The head of the department of special litigation under the Office of the Attorney-General, which was formerly responsible for handling such cases, has been tasked with presenting a list of panel members, he said.

Asked if Thaksin has been singled out as the primary target for legal action, Mr Khemchai said prosecutors must abide by the law and leave judgements to the court.

The organic law also deals with how trials are proceeded at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.

It was designed to cover a number of complicated scenarios such as bringing indicted politicians who have fled the country, to trial.

A number of politicians have left Thailand either before or during their trials at the same Supreme Court division.

The 1999 law stated that if a defendant disappears and cannot be brought to court, the case must be suspended until the suspect returns either voluntarily or through force.

The new law has provisions to ensure cases do not expire before the defendant returns.

Cases expected to be revived include the Krungthai Bank loan scandal and the Thaksin government's conversion of mobile phone operators' concession fees into an excise tax.

The concession fee case has been suspended indefinitely due to Thaksin not being in the country.

CDC spokesman Udom Rathamarit said the idea of addressing the problem of politicians who abscond came from an National Legislative Assembly committee that was set up to scrutinise the organic bill on criminal procedures for political officer holders.

The NLA concluded that the wealth and power afforded to public office holders makes it relatively easy for them to flee, meaning measures were needed to address this.

The law also applies to cases involving local government officials who flee from justice, Mr Udom said.

All political office holders are subject to the law including the cabinet and members of the National Council for Peace and Order, he said.

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