The wife of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was charged with evading
millions of dollars in taxes, opening the first corruption case involving
the ousted leader’s inner circle since a September coup.
Pojaman Shinawatra, her brother and secretary were
arraigned at the Bangkok Criminal Court and released after posting bail of
15 million baht (US$476,000; €120,000) bail, said her attorney Nopadol
Patama. The court set a trial date for May 14.
The case marks the first prosecution of those close to
Thaksin, who was ousted by a September military coup and accused of
widespread corruption. Coup leaders had cited Thaksin’s corruption as
justification for his ouster and have faced strong criticism for being slow
to prove their allegations, many of which remain under investigation.
Pojaman, who could face prison time if found guilty, made
no comment to reporters as she was escorted by dozens of police from the
courthouse and into a dark sedan. More than 100 police were deployed in the
area amid concerns over possible protests by both supporters and opponents
of Thaksin, police Capt. Somsak Wimanrat said.
The family’s attorney said the trio planned to plead
not-guilty and defense preparations were under way.
“We are preparing the best tax lawyers to fight this case
in court,” Nopadol told reporters.
The case centers on a 1997 transfer of shares in the
family telecommunications empire later known as Shin Corp.
An investigation by the Assets Examination Committee
found last month that Thaksin’s wife and her brother had to pay back taxes
of about 546 million baht _ about US$17 million (€12 million) at the current
exchange rate _ on the share transfer. The committee was appointed by coup
leaders to investigate alleged corruption linked to Thaksin’s
Pojaman and her brother, Bhanapot Damapong, face a
maximum penalty of 14 years in prison and a 400,000 baht (US$12,600; €9,100)
fine each if convicted on two tax evasion counts, said Attapol Yaisawang,
spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
The secretary, Kanchanapa Honghern, would face a maximum
penalty of seven years and a 200,000 baht (US$6,300; €4,500) fine because
she is accused of only one charge.
Thaksin transferred shares in Shin Corp. to his maid and
other domestic helpers to shed holdings before taking public office. His
first of two terms as prime minister began in 2001.
This case is not connected to the contentious sale last
year of Shin Corp. to Temasek Holdings, a Singaporean state-owned company,
for 73.3 billion baht (US$2.2 billion; €1.7 billion). But it is being widely
watched as part of the corruption allegations against Thaksin.
The Shin sale drew widespread protests because it placed
strategic assets, including communications satellites, in the hands of
foreigners, and because the deal was structured so that Thaksin’s family did
not have to pay any capital gains tax.
Thaksin’s daughter Pintongta and son Phantongtae are
under investigation by the Assets Examination Committee in connection with