Reuters UK

Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:48pm BST


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By Nopporn Wong-Anan (Corrects daughters name in paragraph 16 to Paethongtan from Pinthongta)

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who skipped bail last month and went into exile in London, said on Thursday that corruption charges against him were part of a conspiracy by political opponents.

The billionaire insisted he would not return to Thailand to fight the charges, a day after the Supreme Court issued a third arrest warrant for him and postponed a ruling on corruption charges against the couple.

“Politically motivated cases must be resolved by political means. I have been politically framed,” Thaksin, 59, told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home in the upscale commuter belt of Surrey, southwest of London.

“I will return to Thailand only when the time is right,” Thaksin said on the eve of the second anniversary of the military coup that removed him on September 19, 2006.

“I need to concentrate on making a living overseas for my children and my wife,” he said.

It was his first interview since August 11, when the couple issued a statement confirming they were in England after skipping bail on graft charges.

Thaksin, who won two landslide election victories but was ousted after being accused of corruption and abuse of power, faces a spate of criminal cases prepared by anti-graft investigators appointed by the coup leaders.

They have asked the courts to seize nearly $2 billion (1.1 billion pounds) of his money frozen in Thai bank accounts, arguing Thaksin had illegally accumulated it while in office, a charge he denies. The Supreme Court issued another arrest warrant for Thaksin and his wife Potjaman on Wednesday after they failed to appear for a ruling in the main graft case against them. 

“If he believes he is innocent, he must return to clear those charges,” Air Chief Marshall Chalit Phukpasuk, one of the 2006 coup leaders, told reporters on Thursday.

Thaksin declined to comment on his brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat, elected prime minister by parliament this week after Samak Sundaravej was ousted by the courts for hosting a TV cooking show while in office.

But Thaksin took a swipe at the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the coalition of businessmen, activists and academics whose 2005 street campaign led to his ouster by the military.

The PAD, which accused Samak of being a Thaksin puppet, has labelled Somchai “just a new leader of a group of bandits” and vowed to continue its three-week occupation of the prime minister’s official compound.

“They can say whatever they want,” Thaksin said. “From now on, anything on earth you want to do, you will have to get permission from the PAD before you can do it.”

Somchai has called for national reconciliation to end Thailand’s three-year old political crisis, a deeply entrenched conflict between Thaksin and his supporters among the rural poor and his rivals in the royalist and military establishment.

Thaksin said he was living a comfortable life in the leafy housing estate where his youngest daughter, Paethongtan, attends graduate classes at the University of Surrey. His daily routine included exercise and visiting friends.

“I am physically fine, but mentally unhappy. Those who aren’t in the same situation as me won’t understand how I am feeling,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Thaksin also did not talk about negotiations to sell his Manchester City football club to an Abu Dhabi-based company for a reported 200 million pounds, considerably higher than the 81 million pounds he paid for the club in 2007. 

But the former telecoms tycoon said he was closely watching the unfolding financial crisis in the United States.

“There are a lot of opportunities in America now, but since my money has been frozen, I won’t have a chance to get to those opportunities,” he said.

($1=.5479 pound)

(Editing by Alan Raybould and Jerry Norton)