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Former Thai PM's Wife Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison for Tax Evasion

The wife of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been found guilty of evading tax and sentenced to three years jail. Ron Corben reports for VOA from Bangkok.

The Thai criminal courts have found the wife of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty of tax evasion linked to a 1997 transfer of shares in the family company that cost the state $16 million in lost revenue.

The high-profile verdict against Potjaman Shinawatra, her brother-in-law and her secretary was broadcast nationally.

The judge said Potjaman and the co-accused faced jail terms of up to three years. In court to hear the verdict were the former prime minister and the couple's adult children - all of whom appeared grim-faced. Later, the three defendants were granted bail, pending an appeal.

Mrs. Thaksin had claimed the share transfer was a "gift" not a business transaction, as claimed by the prosecution.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin - who was ousted in a 2006 coup - is facing accusations of abuse of power and corruption. Soon after taking power, the military set up a special committee of auditors and judges to investigate cases of corruption during Thaksin's five years in power.

The committee has handed over several cases for prosecution through the National Counter-Corruption Commission.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, says the court's decision against Potjaman marks a step forward in Thai efforts to curb official corruption.

"If this case proceeds further, successfully and legally, and some ex-leaders, members of the leaders' families, if they are convicted it is going to be a new beginning of transparency, legitimacy and counter-corruption efforts in Thailand," Panitan said.

The Thai Supreme Court is also scheduled to hand down a verdict in September on abuse of power charges linked to the purchase of state-owned land by Potjaman when Thaksin was prime minister.

Other cases include charges connected to a $120-million loan to Burma's military government, a lottery scheme, an agriculture procurement program, bank loans to politicians and allegations of corruption linked to Bangkok's new $4-billion international airport.

A a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, says the court cases alone may not settle Thailand's political climate.

"The court cases are critical," Thitinan said. "They are reshaping Thailand's political landscape. But I doubt that the judicial decisions that are coming up are going to resolve Thailand's political crisis."

Thailand's political scene remains fragile, despite the election of a new government last December. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is viewed as continuing to represent Thaksin, who remains politically influential in Thailand.

But Thaksin, together with more than 100 political party executives, is banned from politics for five years by a constitutional tribunal decision in 2007 ruled against his former Thai Rak Thai Party for election irregularities.