British Broadcasting Corporation

age last updated at 14:18 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 15:18 UK

 

hai prosecutors are determined that former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra be returned from exile in the UK to face the charges against him and serve his time in jail. The BBC’s Michael Dobie looks at whether the UK will agree to his request.

Exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
Thai prosecutors are gathering evidence to try to extradite Thaksin

Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife, Pojaman, have been living in the UK since August, when they fled Thailand, jumping bail in the process.

Both have now been sentenced to jail terms, and there are many other cases against them which have yet to be decided.

The former leader, who was ousted in a coup in September 2006, retains a lot of support in rural areas of Thailand, but also has many detractors who would like nothing more than to see him in jail.

He is obviously in no rush to go back home to face his convictions, but Thai prosecutors have other ideas and are currently compiling evidence to present to the UK government to request his extradition.

The two countries have had an extradition treaty since 1911, but the procedure can be lengthy and complicated.

For the request to succeed, the UK extradition courts must agree that Thaksin’s crime can be considered one in Britain as well.

 If it appears the request to extradite is in order to punish him for political opinions, extradition is barred 
Clive Nicholls QC
Extradition lawyer

The Thais can get help from the British Crown Prosecution Service in drafting their request to try to get over this hurdle, says Clive Nicholls, an expert in extradition law.

But there are other factors the courts must consider, such as whether the cases against Thaksin are politically motivated, as Thaksin has claimed.

“If it appears the request to extradite is in order to punish him for political opinions, extradition is barred,” says Mr Nicholls.

There are precedents in this vein. The UK has recently refused several Kremlin attempts to extradite Russians – including tycoon Boris Berezovsky – on the grounds that the charges against them were politically motivated.

The UK courts will also look at whether Thaksin has received a fair trial and if there is the possibility of a re-trial or a challenge to the conviction if he is returned.

The fact that he was tried in absentia may be a factor the UK will consider, although it may not be decisive.

Protesters in Bangkok - 17/10/2008
Protesters say the current government is too close to Thaksin

His limited right of appeal may also enter into the extradition court’s decision, says Professor Geoff Gilbert, an expert in extradition law and human rights at the University of Essex in the UK.

Thaksin has 30 days from when he was convicted on 21 October to launch an appeal.

Thai lawyer Piyanuj Ratprasatporn says Thaksin must base his appeal on a significant new bit of evidence which the court did not hear, or on a fact of the case which can be proven incorrect. The decision itself cannot be appealed.

Thaksin has said he will respond in writing to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Human rights gambit

One route Thaksin could take to try to stay in London is to apply for asylum in the UK.

Media reports several weeks ago indicated he had already done that, but after his conviction on Tuesday he told Reuters news agency he had not applied for asylum.

Such a bid would probably fail anyway, says Prof Gilbert, as Thaksin does not have “a hope of showing he had a well-grounded fear of persecution [by the state] in Thailand”.

The UK courts could also refuse to extradite Thaksin if it was thought his human rights would be violated by sending him to a Thai prison.

CASES AGAINST THAKSIN FAMILY
Case one: Corruption charges related to purchase of state land by his wife. Who: Thaksin and his wife. Status: Thaksin guilty, wife acquitted
Case two: Abuse of power linked to government lottery scheme.Who: Thaksin and several former cabinet ministers. Status: Case accepted by Supreme Court
Case three: Abuse of power related to state loan to Burma alleged to have benefited family business. Who: Thaksin. Status: Case accepted by Supreme Court
Case four: Concealing assets.Who: Thaksin, wife and two others. Status: Awaiting court decision on proceeding to trial
Case five: Tax evasion. Who: Members of Thaksin’s family.Status: Wife Pojaman and her brother jailed for three years, her secretary for two years
Several other claims also lodged

Normal Thai prisons are marked by poor living conditions, overcrowding, insufficient food allowances and poor sanitation, says UK charity Prisoners Abroad.

If the UK decides to extradite Thaksin, a challenge could then be launched at the European Court of Human Rights.

This would prolong the process by many more months, says Prof Gilbert. Cases generally take five years to reach the courts, but there is a fast-track process that can cut the time.

Duncan McCargo, a professor of South East Asian Politics at the University of Leeds in England, says that seriously rich Thais like Thaksin and his wife do not tend to end up in jail anyway, so it is difficult to gauge the prospects of any human rights gambit he might launch.

Divisive legacy

Domestic Thai politics could also end up playing a role in whether or not Thaksin returns, says Thailand analyst Jamie Metzl, the executive vice-president of the Asia Society in New York.

The Thai attorney general is determined that Thaksin serve his jail sentence and face the other charges against him.

But Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is Thaksin’s brother-in-law and will not want to see him in prison, Mr Metzl says.

Mr Somchai’s position is precarious, however. Many Thais – including thousands of protesters who are camped outside Government House demanding his resignation – accuse him of being too close to Thaksin.

Because of this animosity, Mr Somchai may well decide he must be seen to pursue Thaksin, Prof McCargo says.

Given the deep divisions in Thailand over Thaksin’s legacy, keeping him out of the country could actually prove beneficial.

His presence back in Thailand – in prison or not – could stir things up more than either his supporters, or his detractors, want.

But Thaksin has a strong incentive to be engaged in Thai politics whether he remains in the UK or not – $2bn (£1.3bn) of his assets in Thailand have been frozen by the courts.