Ex-Thai PM Thaksin to face trial for royal insult

BANGKOK – Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be prosecuted for insulting the monarchy, the attorney general’s office said Wednesday, over comments he made almost a decade ago.

Prayuth Pecharakun, spokesman for the attorney general, said Thaksin would be summoned to court on June 18 to answer charges under the kingdom’s strict lese-majeste laws.

Thaksin, 74, is a two-time premier who was ousted in a 2006 coup and then lived in self exile for 15 years.

He returned to Thailand last year as his Pheu Thai party took power at the head of a coalition government.

“The attorney general has decided to indict Thaksin for insulting the monarchy,” Prayuth told reporters. 

“The attorney general cannot bring him to court today, as his (Thaksin’s) lawyer said he has Covid.”

Thailand has some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws protecting King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family, with each charge bringing a potential 15-year prison sentence.

Thaksin’s lawyer, Winyat Chatmontree, said he would fight the charges.

“He is ready to prove his innocence in the justice system,” Winyat told reporters.

Critics say the lese-majeste laws are abused to stifle legitimate political debate, and there has been a spike in their use since youth-led anti-government street protests in 2020 and 2021.

More than 270 people have been charged with lese-majeste since the protests, accoridng to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Divisive figure

The case against Thaksin relates to comments he made in 2015 to South Korean media and is the latest in a series of legal battles he has fought.

When he returned to Thailand in August last year, the billionaire former Manchester City owner was jailed on graft and abuse-of-power charges dating back to his time in office.

But his return to the kingdom, on the very day Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin came to power as PM in alliance with pro-military parties, led many to conclude a deal had been done to cut his jail time. 

The rumours grew when the king soon cut Thaksin’s sentence from eight years to one, and he was freed on parole earlier this year.

Thaksin insists he has retired, but he has made numerous public appearances since his release and still casts a long shadow over the kingdom’s politics.

For the past two decades, Thai politics has been largely defined by a tussle for dominance between the kingdom’s pro-royalist, pro-military establishment and Thaksin and his allies.

His critics suspected him of pulling strings in the kingdom during his exile, which he spent mostly in Dubai.

His daughter, Paetongtarn, is now head of the Pheu Thai party and has been tipped as a possible future PM.

Last year’s general election was the first time in more than 20 years that a Thaksin-linked party failed to win most seats, beaten into second place by the progressive Move Forward Party.

But pro-establishment forces in the senate blocked MFP’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat from becoming prime minister, paving the way for Pheu Thai to take power and shut the newcomers out of government. –AFP