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Thai Prosecutors Formally Charge Deposed Prime Minister With Corruption


Thai public prosecutors have formally charged former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with corruption in the first formal legal action against him to reach court since he was ousted last year by a military coup. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok that the legal move against Mr. Thaksin came just before a British football club recommended that its shareholders accept the former Thai leader's bid to buy it.

The prosecutors went before the Supreme Court Thursday to charge Mr. Thaksin with "official misconduct" over a $22 million land deal. They say he used his position to help his wife buy prime Bangkok real estate from a government agency at a bargain price.

A panel of nine judges will rule by July 10 whether to proceed with the charges. Supreme Court officials say Mr. Thaksin will have to answer the charges in person if the court proceeds with the case. If found guilty, Mr. Thaksin could face up to 10 years in jail.

Chris Baker, an author and commentator on Thai politics and business, says the prosecutors' move against Mr. Thaksin is significant.

"This is probably one of the most blatant deals that he and his family got into. It may not be the worst one or the most valuable one, but it seems to have been one [in] which he was most careless," said Baker. "The prosecution may have quite a good opportunity to get him on this one."

Mr. Thaksin has also been accused of abuse of power in the sale of shares in a satellite and communications company to a Singapore-based investment firm that netted his family almost $1.9 billion in tax-free income.

News of the formal charges against Mr. Thaksin coincided with reports from London that he had launched a formal takeover bid worth $163 million for the English Premier League football club, Manchester City.

The widely expected bid was welcomed by the club's board. Three years ago, Mr. Thaksin expressed interest in buying another English club, Liverpool.

Thai authorities have frozen nearly $1.6 billion of Mr. Thaksin's wealth to prevent him from tapping his assets in Thailand. But his lawyer in Bangkok says the former leader had already set aside $210 million to finance his purchase of Manchester City before the accounts were frozen.

Analyst Baker says the move to buy the football team now leaves Mr. Thaksin with the choice of staying in Britain, where he has spent most of the time since he was ousted by the military last year.

"As the manager of a relatively major football club he has to make some choices," said Baker. "If he comes back to face these charges, he is going to face certain other risks. So this now is getting very close to the crunch time when he has to make up his mind about his future."

Mr. Thaksin's prospects of staging a political recovery have increasingly dimmed after his political party was found guilty last month of fraud in the April 2006 general elections by a constitutional tribunal. Mr. Thaksin and other party chiefs were subsequently banned from holding political office.

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