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Ousted Thai PM formally charged for land deal

Written by: Staff

Bangkok, June 21: Thai state prosecutors formally charged ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with ''official misconduct'' today relating to his wife's purchase of a prime piece of Bangkok real estate, a court official said.

The filing at the Supreme Court is the first formal legal action taken against Thaksin since he was ousted in a September coup by generals accusing him of running a corrupt government.

A panel of nine judges is expected to rule on July 10 whether to proceed with the charges, summarised as ''misconduct of a government official and violation of a ban on state officials being party to transactions involving public interests''.

Thaksin, who has been exile in London since the coup, would have to appear to answer the charges if the court decided to try the case, court official Seksan Bangsomboon told reporters.

If convicted, Thaksin could face up to 10 years in jail and a 60,000 baht fine, he added.

The charges stem from a ruling by an Asset Examination Committee (AEC) set up after the coup that Thaksin and his wife, Pojaman, broke anti-graft laws preventing politicians in office doing business deals with state agencies.

Pojaman bought the land for 772 million baht (22.3 million dollar) from a unit of the Bank of Thailand in a 2003 auction, while Thaksin was in the middle of his first term, in which other bidders dropped out.

The AEC wants the court to annul the deal, return the land to the central bank and confiscate the money involved.

Thaksin and his wife have denied the charges.

Thai Justice Ministry investigators earlier this week ordered the billionaire former telecoms tycoon to return by June 29 to face charges of concealing assets.

Army-appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Thaksin's safety would be assured, although coup leader and army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin has said he could be an assassination target.

Bangkok lawyer Noppadon Pattama said in a statement Thaksin was still considering whether to return to Thailand.

Last week, the AEC froze 1.5 billion dollar in Thaksin family bank accounts, alleging he had accumulated unusual amounts of wealth during his premiership between 2001 and 2006.



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