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By Ron Corben
21 October 2008
Thailand's Supreme Court has found former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty of a conflict of interest involving a land deal his wife arranged. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, Thai prosecutors say they will ask for Thaksin's extradition from Britain.
A Supreme Court justice reads the verdict, saying the court has sentenced Thaksin Shinawatra to two years in jail and dismissed the case against his wife. He says a new arrest warrant has been issued for Thaksin.
|Judges of supreme court take up position before verdict of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, 21 Oct 2008, in Bangkok|
In a five-to-four ruling, the judges found Thaksin violated conflict of interest laws in 2003 when his wife Pojaman Shinawatra purchased land from a government fund.
The court cleared Pojaman of all charges associated with the deal. Neither Thaksin nor his wife were in court. They fled to Britain in August after she was convicted on another charge. Prosecutors say they will use the new verdict in a requesting that Britain extradite Thaksin immediately.
This is just one of several corruption cases filed against Thaksin for actions while he was in office. He was overthrown in a coup in September 2006.
Other pending cases include allegations of corruption in the construction of Bangkok's new airport and conflicts of interest in arranging assistance to Burma's military government.
Human Rights Watch Thailand representative Sunai Pasuk says the verdict is a major step in Thailand's efforts to counter corruption in government.
"The decision on Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife will serve as a reaffirmation of a new principle in Thai politics that is corrupted politicians will be held accountable for their misconduct, no matter how long it will take or how much the political cost that the decision will render," said Sunai.
|Thaksin Shinawatra (File photo)|
Thaksin and Pojaman have denied wrongdoing and accuse the courts of bias.
In comments from Britain, Thaksin said he had "long anticipated" the outcome of the case.
Thaskin has been a divisive figure in Thai politics since becoming prime minister in 2001. He is highly popular among the urban working class and rural poor because of policies that addressed their concerns, such as low-cost health care.
On the other hand, urban middle class and political elite consider Thaksin and his allies to be corrupt and authoritarian. Months of protests in 2006 led to the coup that ousted him, but his allies in the People Power Party won national elections late last year.
For months this year, the People's Alliance for Democracy has led massive protests, demanding that the PPP government resign because, the protesters say, it acts on Thaksin's behalf.
In August, the PAD occupied the main government administration building. Efforts to negotiate an end to the siege fell apart after two protesters died when riot police tried to disperse a crowd around Parliament on October 7.
Political analysts expect the verdict will do little to ease the political tensions . There were fears that the court's decision could spark violent clashes between Thaksin's supporters and critics. But Bangkok was calm in the hours immediately after the verdict.