Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has appeared in court in the capital, Bangkok, to plead not guilty one of the two corruption cases being brought against him.
Thaksin ready to clear charges against him in Thailand
Hundreds of Thaksin’s supporters gathered in and outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok for the hearing. Many were holding portraits of the former leader and were chanting slogans in his support.
The charges against Thaksin and his wife resulted from an investigation by a military appointed panel after his ouster from power in 2006. The couple have been accused of purchasing a prime property in Bangkok in 2003 from a government agency despite an anti-corruption law barring politicians and their spouses from doing business with state agencies. Mr Thaksin has denied the charges:
"All the charges against me and my family are baseless. We can prove our innocence.We have done nothing wrong."
Thaksin not to return to politics
Thaksin was the prime minister from 2001-2006. But his government was toppled by the military in September 2006 over allegations that he was involved in widespread corruption. He was forced into exile and his party was dissolved by a military backed court. His family assets worth nearly 2 billion US dollars were also frozen. He returned to Thailand last month, after his allies’ took power following their sweeping victory in the general elections in December. Since then he has said he will not return to politics and is only interested in clearing the case against him and that once the cases are cleared, he will devote his time to charity work, sports and his family.
The next hearing on the land case is due on April 29th, when Thaksin’s lawyers have to present lists of witnesses and evidence. If convicted, the couple might have to face up to 10 years in jail.
Permission to travel granted
Meanwhile the court has agreed to grant Thaksin permission to travel to Britain for a month. It will proceed with the trial in his absence. The billionaire is due to leave on Thursday to England to cheer on Manchester City, the soccer team he bought last year.
“That is my commitment to Manchester City. I feel like they are losing too many games in the last three to four months while I am still busy. So I have to go back and tighten the bolt."
On Monday, the army-appointed panel filed new charges against Thaksin, accusing him and 46 cabinet ministers and other top officials of illegal use of funds from a state lottery, during 2003 to 2006. But critics say it is unlikely that he would end up behind bars as it would be difficult to get witnesses, who would testify against him now that a Thaksin-supported party was leading a coalition government.