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22.10.2008 International

Thai Ex-PM Guilty

By Daily Guide

Thailand's fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra has been found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison by the Thai Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling, he was found to have violated conflict of interest rules in helping his wife buy land from a state agency at a knock-down price.

The couple fled to the UK in August, saying they would not get a fair trial.

The decision comes amid growing tension between the former leader's supporters and his opponents.

The ruling is the first in a string of stalled and slow-moving cases against Thaksin, former owner and now honorary chairman of Manchester City Football Club, launched in the wake of the 2006 military coup.

The coup leaders claimed there had been massive corruption and abuse of power under Thaksin's rule, and set up a special unit to investigate the business dealings of the former leader and his close associates.

His wife, Pojaman, was convicted of tax evasion in July and sentenced to three years in jail but was acquitted by the Supreme Court in the current case.

Political tensions

The nine-member court ruled by five to four that Thaksin had violated the constitution in involving himself in the land deal.

"Thaksin had violated the article of the constitution on conflict of interest, as he was then prime minister and head of government who was supposed to work for the benefit of the public," one judge said as he read the verdict.

The case stems from Pojaman's purchase in an auction of about 13 acres (five hectares) of prime land in central Bangkok in 2003 for 772 million baht ($22.4m).

The land was bought from the Financial Institutions Development Fund (FIDF), a government agency that had been set up to bail-out debt-ridden banks.

The FIDF had taken ownership of the land in 1995 to cover the losses of the collapsed Erawan Trust.

Prime ministers and their spouses are barred from doing business with government agencies.

Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001-2006, said the charges were politically motivated and that he had expected the Supreme Court to sentence him, Reuters news agency reported. He told Reuters he was not seeking asylum in the UK.

The chief prosecutor in the case said he wanted Britain to "quickly extradite" Thaksin.