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Thai Military Coup Leaders Set up Powerful Anti-Corruption Body


The ruling military junta in Thailand has set up a powerful anti-corruption body to investigate allegations of graft in the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown last week in a bloodless coup.

The new nine-member committee, which includes Thai central bank officials, prosecutors and government auditors, began Monday to investigate accusations that members of Mr. Thaksin's administration abused power for personal gain.

The Thai military says it overthrew Mr. Thaksin last week because his government was corrupt and was dividing the nation.

Somphob Manarangsan, head of the economics department at Bangkok's Thammasat University, says the coup leaders will now be expected to set up effective anti-graft mechanisms.

"I think that one charge that people paid to the government is the corruption charge," he said. "And so the coup used this kind of charge as one of the major reasons to topple the Thaksin government. So I think that after the coup, they also have to clean up the country."

The new committee has one year to complete its investigations and forward cases to the Attorney General for prosecution.

The coup leaders have given the committee the power to confiscate or freeze the assets of politicians and their family members if found guilty of corruption, making it more powerful of Thailand's existing anti-graft agency.

Last week, the coup leaders revived that agency, the National Counter-Corruption Commission, to investigate corruption in general - but the commission cannot freeze assets. It can only seek to prosecute cases through the courts.

Somphob from Thammasat University says both corruption panels need to be transparent to gain the trust of the people.

"I think that they should conduct [themselves] in the very open way, very transparent way, and having the good governance, accountability, credibility and transparency," he said.

Mr. Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon turned politician, is now in exile in London where, he says, he is taking a rest from politics.

His wife, Pojaman Shinawatra joined him there Monday. She and their three children hold much of the family wealth.

Calls for Mr. Thaksin to resign intensified after his family earned $1.9 billion tax-free from the sale in January of the telecommunications company the prime minister founded. The public was outraged that their leader could earn such a large profit without paying tax, and months of street protests followed.

The leaders of the coup have declared martial law, suspended the 1997 constitution, banned political party meetings and restricted the press.

The junta has also promised to name a civilian prime minister by next week, and hold elections in October 2007.

Although polls show most Thais welcomed the coup, governments and human rights groups around the world have criticized it.