Friday, August 3, 2007

Thaksin to be charged over Burma loan

by SURASAK GLAHAN - Bangkok Post

The Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) yesterday agreed to press criminal charges against Thaksin Shinawatra for abuse of his position in ordering an increase in the amount of the ExportImport Bank’s soft loan to Burma.

Mr Thaksin’s interference in the issue was aimed at benefiting his family’s satellite and broadband business, ASC spokesman Sak Korsaengruang said.

‘‘Mr Thaksin is charged with wrongdoing in implementing this policy to seek benefit for his family business. This was his abuse of power,’’ he said.

There was strong evidence Mr Thaksin forced then foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai and top Foreign Ministry officials to boost the amount of the soft loan to the Burmese government from three to four billion baht, said ASC member Viroj Laohaphan, chairman of the case fact-finding team.

The additional money was approved for the Burmese government to develop telecommunications facilities, including buying goods and services from the satellite broadband and fibre-optic firm Shin Satellite Co, which was owned by Mr Thaksin’s family, said Mr Viroj.

The Thai government earlier agreed on a three-billion-baht loan to Burma only for development of basic infrastructure, including road links with Thailand.

Mr Surakiart and senior officials at the East Asian Affairs Department opposed the increase in loan size, said Mr Viroj, citing both written and verbal evidence that his team gathered from questioning the ex-minister and officials.

Mr Surakiart opposed the request for the increase because it violated the Bagan Declaration, a regional economic strategy signed by the Thai, Burmese, Lao and Cambodian governments, which excludes development of the telecom sector, said Mr Viroj. The declaration only allows lending for other purposes such as trade, investment, agriculture, industry and regional transport links.

Foreign Ministry officials objected to boosting the loan amount on the grounds that it would make Thailand a target of international criticism for helping the Burmese junta, said Mr Viroj.

They told Mr Thaksin that Thailand’s approval would damage the country because it would obstruct US-led attempts to press Burma to restore democracy via economic sanctions.

However, Mr Thaksin intruded upon the process by ordering the ministry to approve the request, he added.

In a letter dated March 2, 2004, submitted to the Burmese government informing it of approval of the loan increase, Mr Surakiart told the Burmese government that Mr Thaksin had ordered the ministry to inform Burma specifically that Mr Thaksin was the one who had given the go-ahead.

Mr Sak said the former premier would be charged with criminal offences under Articles 152 and 157 of the Criminal Code, each stipulating imprisonment of one to ten years and a fine of up to 20,000 baht.

The ASC next week will appoint an inquiry team to handle the next stage, which includes Mr Thaksin’s defence, before deciding whether to file the case with the public prosecutor, Mr Sak said.

The ASC yesterday also filed charges with the police against four individuals who refused to provide information on Shin Corp shares to the panel.

They were Mr Thaksin’s wife Khunying Potjaman, their son Panthongtae, his wife’s secretary Karnchanapa Honghern and Bussaba Damapong; the wife of Khunying Potjaman’s stepbrother Bannapot Damapong.

The panel also agreed to allow an inquiry team, led by Banjerd Singkhaneti and Kaewson Athipho, to broaden its inquiry against Mr Thaksin, Mr Sak said.


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