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Thaksin Shinawatra: Ex-PM sentenced after return to Thailand

Published August 22, 2023last updated August 22, 2023

Thailand's top court said he will serve eight years in prison for three convictions. He returned to the country after 15 years in exile — on the same day the parliament is set to vote for a new prime minister.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets his supporters after landing at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport
Thaksin greeted his supporters after landing at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport Image: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images

Thailand's Supreme Court on Tuesday handed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra an eight-year sentence.

The court said the sentence relates to three convictions — abuse of power and malfeasance, illegally ordering a state-run bank to issue a foreign loan and illegally holding shares via nominees. 

Thaksin was quickly arrested and taken to the Supreme Court after he returned to Thailand on Tuesday, after 15 years in exile.

His arrival and prison sentence came just hours before Thailand's parliament was set vote on whether to appoint his party's candidate as the new prime minister.

Hundreds of people had gathered to see Thaksin, a business tycoon-turned-politician, as he arrived in Thailand at  9 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport. He had boarded a private jet from Singapore.

Just a couple of hours before his arrival, his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra — who is also a former Thai prime minister — shared pictures and a video of him boarding the plane on Facebook.

"The day my brother has waited for has arrived," she posted, alongside images of him on a plane. In a video also posted, Thaksin can be seen shaking hands with the crew before boarding the private jet.

Thailand gears up for high-voltage political drama

Thaksin's arrival in Thailand after 15 years of exile came on the same day as  a deadlocked parliament was going to vote for a new prime minister.

Legislators have nominated for the post business tycoon Srettha Thavisin, who has become the face of Thaksin Shinawatra's political movement. Thavisin will head the coalition led by the Pheu Thai party, the latest in a string of parties formed by the Thaksin or his allies.

In the election held in May this year, the Move Forward party emerged as the strongest one but failed to form the government, paving the way for the Pheu Thai party to come in power.

DW's Asia-Pacific bureau chief, Georg Matthes, said that Thaksin was likely hoping for a royal pardon, especially given that the coalition led by the Pheu Thai party also includes pro-military and pro-royalist parties.

"There are speculations that as part of the coalition, Pheu Thai party made a deal with other parties and the pardon is part of it," Matthes said.

Who is Thaksin Shinawatra?

Born into one of the most prominent ethnic Chinese families in northern Chiang Mai province, the 74-year-old became known for overhauling Thailand's politics after he was elected prime minister in 2001.

Thaksin is loved by the rural poor for his policies that focused on Thailand's health system and labor, but is despised by the powerful elites who see his tenure as corrupt, authoritarian and disruptive.

Before he became prime minister, he formed his own political party, Thai Rak Thai, in 1998, which later came to be known as Pheu Thai party and brought Thaksin's sister Yingluck to power in 2011.

Thaksin was ousted in a coup 17 years ago.

He later went into a self-imposed exile, but the polarizing leader has maintained a significant stranglehold over Thailand's politics.

mfa/jsi (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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