x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UK revokes former Thai PM's visa

Ousted from power in a military coup, Thaksin Shinawatra was charged with corruption in a land deal.

BANGKOK // The British government has moved to stop Thailand's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from re-entering the United Kingdom. Thaksin who was ousted from power by a military coup in Sept 2006, has been living in self-exile in England. He and his wife, Pojaman, have had their visas revoked. The decision was made by the UK Border Agency last week while the couple were out of the country. Airlines in Thailand, including the national carrier, Thai International, were all notified of the decision by e-mail. "The UK visas contained in the passports of the individuals listed above [Thaksin and his wife, including their passport numbers] are no longer valid for travel," according to copies of the e-mail which are now circulating throughout Thailand. "Airlines are advised not to carry these passengers to the UK," it warned. The Thai ministry of foreign affairs had been notified of Britain's decision, the deputy foreign affairs spokesman, Thanee Thongpakdee, told journalists in Bangkok yesterday. At present, Thaksin's whereabouts is steeped in mystery, as it often is. Until recently, the former premier was in Hong Kong. Last Saturday, Thaksin spoke to more than 70,000 supporters who had rallied in a sport stadium in Bangkok in a controversial phone-in to a television talk show. "Nobody can bring me back to Thailand, except the royal kindness of HM the king or the power of the people," Thaksin told his admiring supporters. "See, Thaksin is not dead," a 20-year-old student who identified himself as Rang said. But Thaksin's comments triggered a new controversy, with his political opponents and senior members of the army insisting he had broken the law. They also accused Thaksin of trying to drag the king into politics. The UK visa move, however, may shed another light on Thaksin's statement. "There is no where for [Mr] Thaksin to run now," said a senior political analyst at the English-language daily newspaper, The Nation, Kavi Chongkittavorn. "Maybe he knew then he was someone desperate to find refuge, rather than trying to provoke a political reaction." Thaksin is reported to be on his way to the Philippines to meet some of his ardent political allies and parliamentarians representing constituents in the country's north-east, where he remains overwhelmingly popular. Many of the poor farmers there regard him as their hero - in their eyes he is almost a demigod. It is this major split - between Thaksin's supporters and his opponents, led by the Peoples' Alliance for Democracy - that has besieged the government for almost three months and has dramatically polarised the country and sent it into a major political crisis. Three months ago Thaksin and his wife skipped bail and fled to London. Several weeks later the Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption in a land deal that involved a government agency under his control selling land to his wife at a fraction of its commercial value. He was sentenced to two years in jail in absentia. Pojaman had been found guilty of tax evasion. The Thai government, led by Thaksin's brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, has already begun extradition proceedings. At the same time, Thaksin is reported to have begun to apply for political asylum. The former premier withdrew his application a few days ago, according to a senior source close to Thaksin. The cancellation of the visas and Thaksin and Pojaman's decision not to go ahead with their plans to apply for asylum may be related, according to Thai diplomats who did not want to be identified. Now that Thaksin is a convicted felon, his status has changed and this may be the reason behind both decisions, they suggested. "At the very least, the British government's decision has endorsed the Thai judicial system," Mr Kavi said. "It suggests that the UK at least does not agree with Mr Thaksin's accusations that all charges against him are politically motivated and the courts simply doing the bidding of the anti-Thaksin supporters." Government officials in London yesterday refused to confirm or deny that the UK visas of Thaksin and his wife had been revoked. A Home Office spokesman said individual cases were not discussed. However, diplomatic sources said such action was inevitable following the former prime minister's conviction for corruption. "There has been a lot of pressure coming on the UK government from Bangkok," the source said. "In the circumstances, once they were out of Britain, the revocation of their visas was bound to come sooner rather than later." Thaksin has spent much of the past two years living at homes he has bought in England, including a mansion in Surrey. Last year, he bought Manchester City Football Club before selling it this summer to an Abu Dhabi consortium. He is reported also to have bought a property in China, according to a senior source in the People's Power Party - which is closely aligned with the former prime minister. The house, worth 300 million baht (Dh37m), is reportedly near the Pine Valley Golf Course in Beijing. He has said he planned to stay in the United Kingdom indefinitely, although Thailand had demanded his extradition. It seemed that the British government would have no alternative but to begin extradition proceedings - a potentially lengthy process where the legal advantage often lies with the defendant. Thaksin's lawyers were ready to argue that he should not be extradited because he had not received a fair trial in Thailand. There were also questions over whether or not the basis of his conviction was covered by extradition agreements between the two countries, "As it turns out, the British government appears to have done some nifty footwork and taken advantage of their absence from the country to revoke their visas and order airlines not to fly them back," said the diplomatic source in London. "That neatly solves the problem of extradition from a British standpoint. It doesn't force Mr Thaksin to return to Thailand, but it does mean he has to find somewhere else to live, making him someone else's problem." "The noose is now tightening around Thaksin's neck," Mr Kavi said. "If Britain bans him - then the EU will probably have to follow as well as the members of the Commonwealth, including Malaysia and Singapore," he said. Several developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and South America are reported to have recently offered to help Thakisn. He may already have honorary citizenship in the Bahamas - one of the countries that had previously offered him asylum, according to Thai newspapers, and may be able to travel on a Bahamian passport. * With additional reporting by David Sapsted in London