Former Thai PM Thaksin Will Be Indicted in Royal Insult Case

(Bloomberg) -- Thai prosecutors decided to formally charge former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a royal defamation case, creating fresh legal risks for the head of the political dynasty that controls the country’s ruling party.

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The move to indict Thaksin came days after a court decided to scrutinize a petition against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his decision to appoint a former Shinawatra family lawyer with a prison history as minister. The two events could be seen as attempts by Thailand’s conservative establishment to reassert its hold over the nation’s politics, which have become dominated by Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party.

Thaksin’s latest legal trouble comes when his bargaining power is at its lowest, suggesting that the establishment is growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with his recent political activities, said Napon Jatusripitak, a visiting fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Prosecutors said they have enough evidence to indict the 74-year-old former leader under the country’s lese majeste law that protects the royal family from criticism. Thaksin has been ordered to be physically present to hear the indictment on June 18, Prayut Bejraguna, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, told a news conference.

The popular politician will also be indicted for violating the country’s Computer Crime Act, Prayut said. The charges stem from an interview Thaksin gave in Seoul in 2015 that prosecutors deemed had breached Article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, which carries a maximum jail term of 15 years for each offense of defaming the monarchy.

The former two-time prime minister returned to Thailand from a 15-year self-imposed exile after a messy general election last year that eventually saw the Shinawatra-backed Pheu Thai rise to power after nearly a decade of military-backed rule. His homecoming was seen as part of a deal with the military establishment that ousted him and later his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in 2014.

Thaksin, who is currently on parole after being sentenced in corruption cases, is due to walk free after his royally commuted jail term ends in August.

Reminder to Thaksin

“Either the deal is off and Thaksin is once again targeted by actors aligned with the establishment, or the terms of the deal are being renegotiated to remind Thaksin of who is ultimately in power,” Napon said. “This could be a way to ensure that Thaksin upholds his end of the agreement, whatever that may entail.”

While Srettha heads an 11-party coalition government that also includes some pro-royalist and military-backed parties, Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra is the leader of the Pheu Thai.

Thaksin skipped a meeting with prosecutors on Wednesday with his lawyer submitting a medical certificate showing he has contracted Covid. The former premier will be eligible to apply for a bail pending trial, Prayut said.

The attorney general’s decision this week upheld that of his predecessor’s in 2016. Legal action could not advance at the time because Thaksin had not been present after fleeing Thailand in 2008 to avoid corruption charges.

“Thaksin is ready to prove his innocence in the judicial process,” his lawyer Winyat Chatmontree told reporters. “We will work to negate all the evidence and show that the attorney general’s decision is not reasonable.”

Thaksin held the country’s top political office from 2001 until being ousted in a 2006 coup.

(Updates with comments from political analyst from fifth paragraph.)

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