When deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned from exile six months ago, he fell to his knees and kissed the Bangkok pavement. Today, the hero’s welcome he received is a distant memory. Facing corruption charges, Thaksin and his wife—who’d obtained special permission to leave the country for the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony—fled to London on Monday, the day they were to appear in a Thai court. “I’d like to apologize that my wife and I have travelled to England, where democracy is more important,” he said in a handwritten statement sent to Thai media.
Thaksin is no stranger in the U.K. Accused of corruption and abuse of power, he relocated there after being ousted in a 2006 military coup. Amid some controversy, the telecommunications billionaire went on to purchase the Manchester City Football Club. Even from exile, Thaksin retained his popularity among Thailand’s rural poor—and so, when his close ally Samak Sundaravej was elected prime minister last year, he must have felt safe returning home.
But, empowered by a new, military-sponsored constitution, Thai courts have doggedly pursued the couple. Thaksin’s wife Pojaman Shinawatra was recently sentenced to three
years in prison for tax evasion (she was out on bail pending appeal when the couple fled). And in June, three of Thaksin’s lawyers were sentenced to six months in jail for attempting to bribe judges. This week, upon learning the couple had fled, Thailand’s Supreme Court ordered bail money seized and issued warrants for their arrest (legal experts suggest they’ll be protected by British extradition laws, which tend to favour defendants). In his written statement, Thaksin suggested he hopes to come home one day. “If I am fortunate enough, I will return and die on Thai soil, just like other Thais,” he said. M
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