BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand's top court on Monday (March 6) issued an arrest warrant for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for policy executed by his government that was deemed to benefit his family business.
The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders began the trial under a new law on criminal procedures covering cases against politicians.
The new law allows trials to proceed in absentia against politicians, in situations where cases have been suspended because the defendants have fled the country.
Thaksin was sued by public prosecutors in 2008 on charges of malfeasance, dereliction of duty and violating the anti-corruption law. The case stemmed from his government's decision to allow companies with telecoms concessions to pay excise tax instead of concession fees, which caused the relevant state agencies to lose revenue of 66 billion baht (S$2.8 billion).
The Shinawatra family business at that time, Shin Corporation, was believed to be one of the telecoms firms benefiting from the policy.
Thaksin, 69, fled Thailand the same year and has since lived in self-imposed exile overseas.
Under the old law, the legal cases against him were suspended pending his arrest.
With the new law passed last year, the court is empowered to try cases in the absence of fugitive politicians, three months after an arrest warrant is issued following their escape.
Under this new law, the defendants have the right to appoint lawyers to act on their behalf and they can get involved in defending themselves at any time during the trial. However, neither Thaksin nor his lawyer was present in court Monday and he did not appoint anyone to act on his behalf.
Copies of the arrest warrant and the indictment had been posted at Thaksin's house in the Charoen Sanitwong area of Bangkok, notifying him of the start of the trial on Monday. The court issued an arrest warrant for Thaksin after no representatives from the defence appeared in court.
The court also assigned public prosecutors to seek Thaksin's arrest and to give monthly updates to the court on their progress.
The court concluded the hearing by instructing both sides to return on July 10 to examine the evidence and list of witnesses.
There are three other cases against Thaksin that are being reviewed in his absence under the new law.
They involve alleged irregularities regarding a loan from the state-run Krungthai Bank to a property firm, a loan from the state-run Export-Import Bank to Myanmar and a Thaksin government project to offer state lottery bets similar to those of underground lottery schemes.
In the lawsuit filed against Thaksin, public prosecutors also accused him of acting in conflict of interest while serving as prime minister between 2001 and 2006, in addition to malfeasance and negligence.
The lawsuit noted Thaksin's government exempted his satellite business from paying excise tax even though it was part of the telecoms sector. The exemption also benefited his family business Shin Corp.