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Wife of Deposed Thai PM Faces Criminal Tax Evasion Charges

The wife of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra faces criminal tax evasion charges as part of corruption investigations into the family's business. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the case is linked to stock transfers before Thaksin came to power in 2001.

The case against Pojaman Shinawatra, wife of deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is one of several investigations underway into the business affairs of the Thaksin family and the actions of his administration.

Thaksin, ousted in a coup last September, strenuously denies the allegations against his wife, calling them politically motivated.

A spokesman for the committee investigating the Thaksin family says Pojaman and her step-brother failed to pay up to $15 million in taxes on the transfer of shares in 1997. The charges, if proven, carry fines and jail terms of up to seven years. They are also charged with providing misleading information to the authorities.

The Shinawatras claim the transfer of 4.5 million shares in the family company was a gift. Pojaman also is under investigation for a land deal involving the Central Bank of Thailand.

Other investigators have indicated they will soon charge Mr. Thaksin and airport authorities for corruption connected to the building of Bangkok's new but problem-plagued international airport.

Chulalongkorn University politics professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak says the steps to prosecute the family and their business associates raise some interesting questions.

"One is whether these charges will lead to some kind of real punishment; whether they will really stick," said Thitinan. "Obviously, there will be indictments, but what kind of convictions will we see."

Thitinan adds that the indictments could prevent Thaksin from returning to politics.

"In the short term, the noose is tightening on Thaksin and his family. It will prevent him from coming back for sure," said Thitinan. "But in the longer term - as we have seen in Thailand - many cases like this, they never go to jail and they end up returning to politics."

Thaksin's legal representatives are expecting the former premier to return to Thailand later this year, as required under Thai law, once indictments are presented to the court. The whereabouts of his wife are unclear, although she is known to have returned to Thailand for visits since her husband was deposed.