(Recasts with ruling)
By Pracha Hariraksapitak
BANGKOK Oct 21 Thailand's Supreme Court ruled
on Tuesday that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had
violated a conflict-of-interest law while in office and
sentenced him to two years in prison.
The nine judges ruled by five to four that Thaksin, who has
been at the heart of Thailand's political crisis over the past
three years and now lives in exile in Britain, had got involved
in his wife's purchase of land from a central bank fund.
"The defendant is guilty of violating the anti-corruption
law, and the punishment is two years in prison," a judge said,
reading out the verdict.
Thaksin, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said the case
was politically motivated. He has said before that he could not
expect a fair trial from Thai courts. "I have been informed of
the result. I had long anticipated that it would turn out this
way," he said.
He denied British media reports he was seeking asylum in
Britain. A Thai prosecutor said he would urge Britain to
extradite Thaksin now that the court had sentenced him to
The ruling is the first on a spate of corruption charges
against Thaksin and his political associates prepared by graft
investigators appointed after a military coup in 2006.
It will do little to lower the political temperature in
Thailand, where Thaksin still commands wide support outside the
capital, and will be seen as a further blow to the government
of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is his brother-in-law.
An elected government came to power this year but the main
party in the coalition, the People Power Party, is seen by
opponents as a mere proxy for Thaksin.
The extra-parliamentary People's Alliance for Democracy
(PAD) has been waging a street campaign since May to force the
government out and has occupied the prime minister's official
compound since August.
Two people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes
between PAD supporters and the police on Oct. 7.
The court area was plastered with signs warning Thaksin
supporters and opponents they would be in contempt of court if
they caused any disturbance.
About 300 government supporters were seen around the court,
which was guarded by 100 uniformed police officers, a third of
the number the police had earlier planned to deploy.
The PAD opted not to go ahead with a plan to march to the
court. "We are staying where we are. We don't want to create
any trouble," PAD spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan told Reuters.
The political crisis dates back to 2005 when the PAD
launched street protests against Thaksin, alleging corruption
and abuse of power. It has meandered through a coup to
elections and back to protests and shows no sign of resolution.
The army removed Thaksin from power because of allegations
of rampant corruption during his five years in power. Nearly $2
billion of his family's assets have been frozen in Thai bank
(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; writing by Alan
Raybould; editing by Roger Crabb)