By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng
BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand's controversial billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has been granted parole after serving six months in detention, the prime minister said Tuesday, while highlighting his service to the country.
The influential Thaksin, a political heavyweight and arguably Thailand's best known prime minister, made a dramatic homecoming after living abroad for 15 years in self-exile to avoid prison for a conflict of interest.
Thaksin, 74, soon after had his eight-year jail term commuted to a year by the king. He has served six months of that in hospital detention over an undisclosed health condition and did not spend a single night in prison.
"It's official that he received parole. It's in line with the corrections department regulations," Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, a fellow tycoon and ally of the Shinawatra family, told reporters.
"Thaksin was prime minister for many years and did many good things for the country for a long time. After he comes out, he would be a normal citizen."
A former policeman and telecoms magnate who has been at the centre of a tumultuous two-decade battle for power in Thailand, Thaksin was on a list of 930 prisoners who were considered elderly or ill and approved for parole, according to media reports.
He could be released after Feb. 18, according to corrections department rules. Thaksin's lawyer Winyat Chatmontri said he has yet to receive a release date.
Thaksin's daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra told reporters it was time her father came home. "I hope you're strong and healthy ... come out and live your life in Thailand," she added.
Despite being granted parole, the former leader could, however, still be detained, as public prosecutors consider charging him for insulting the monarchy during a 2015 interview.
Thaksin's return last year coincided with ally and political newcomer Srettha being chosen as prime minister on the same day, adding to speculation that both developments were part of a behind-the-scenes deal between Thaksin and his powerful enemies in Thailand's royalist-military establishment.
Thaksin's allies and the government, led by the Shinawatra-backed Pheu Thai Party, have dismissed that.
On his first night in prison, Thaksin was moved to a police hospital, with doctors saying he had experienced tightness in his chest and high blood pressure.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng, Edited by Kanupriya Kapoor, Ed Davies, Martin Petty and Miral Fahmy)