Former Thailand leader seeks asylum in Britain

BANGKOK, Thailand — The former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, skipped a court appearance Monday and announced he was seeking refuge in London, leaving behind more than $2-billion in assets frozen by the generals who ousted him from power two years ago.

Thailand's Supreme Court ordered bail money seized and issued warrants for the arrest of Thaksin and his wife, Pojaman Shinawatra. The forfeited bail of nearly $400,000 is in addition to the more than $2-billion already frozen by the government. The family unsuccessfully sought access to the money in recent weeks.

The absence of Thaksin's outsized presence and personality is likely to embolden his critics in Thailand, but it is far from a guarantee of an end to the political battles that have racked this country since his ouster in a 2006 coup. Millions of supporters have been irked by what they view as his political persecution.

Thaksin and his wife, who had been at the Olympic Games in Beijing, left there for London instead of returning to Bangkok for the court appearance, according to the Thai media.

In a bitter, handwritten note read by newscasters on Thai television, Thaksin said that he constantly feared for his life since returning to Thailand in February and that he had lost faith in the Thai judiciary's fairness in the many cases brought against him by a military-appointed panel after the coup.

His wife was recently sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion, and the couple face other cases for corruption and financial misdeeds.

Thaksin, 59, faces a slew of court cases and investigations into alleged corruption and abuse of power during his five years in office. In his statement, he insisted he was innocent of all the accusations.

Thai officials suggested Monday they had no choice but to begin extradition proceedings, but legal analysts said Thaksin would be shielded in Britain by extradition laws that favor defendants.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Former Thailand leader seeks asylum in Britain 08/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 11:13am]

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