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Ex-Thai PM Thaksin's wife jailed on tax charges

by Ian MacKinnon in Bangkok

(July 31, Bangkok, Sri Lanka Guardian) The wife of the deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was sentenced to three years in jail today for tax evasion over a shares transfer deal.

Pojaman Shinawatra, 51, a major political and business figure, looked stunned as a judge in Bangkok's criminal court passed the sentence.

Her stepbrother, Bhanapot Damapong, and secretary were also sentenced to jail for the 1997 deal, which had been scrutinised and dismissed by Thailand's constitutional court while Thaksin was in office.

"The actions by the three defendants are serious violations of the law," said judge Pramote Pipatpramote as he read today's verdict. "The court has decided the three defendants were guilty of tax fraud."

All three were given bail of five million baht (£75,000) and allowed to leave the court - a smiling Pojaman flanked by her son and two daughters - into a throng of 500 cheering supporters outside.

A lawyer for Pojaman said she would appeal against the sentence. But the conviction is a major blow for Thaksin, who returned from self-imposed exile following the 2006 coup that ousted him, vowing to clear his name of corruption allegations.

Thaksin, 59, who bought Manchester City football club during his 17 months out of the country, faces three abuse of power cases before the supreme court.

He is due to testify in August in another case involving his wife, who is accused of using her husband's influence to buy a piece of prime Bangkok land from the state at one-third of its estimated value. They face 13 years in jail if convicted.

After today's hearing, Thaksin's spokesman, Pongthep Thepkanjana, said the former prime minister and his wife were not concerned about the verdict.

"Thaksin is not disheartened," said Pongthep. "They respect the court ruling but it is not the end. We will fight until the end."

Pojaman, who appeared in a dark suit and wearing a string of pearls, has 30 days to appeal as do the other defendants. It could take up to five years to exhaust all legal avenues.

The allegations focus on a transfer of shares in Shinawatra Computers, later to become Shin Corp. It was Thailand's biggest telecoms firm before its sale for almost £1bn in 2006.

In 1997, the Shinawatra family listed the transfer as worth about £11 million in shares. Share transfers within the stock market are exempt from capital gains tax.

But after Thaksin was deposed in the 2006 coup amid allegations of rampant corruption, Thailand's assets examination committee took a fresh look at the deal and the family altered its story.

Pojaman claimed she bought the shares from a family maid and transferred them to her adopted brother as a gift, which is tax-exempt. But the committee discovered the cheque to the maid was deposited in a bank account belonging to Pojaman.

The committee said Pojaman and her brother misrepresented the deal to evade taxes and was liable for back dues of £8.2m. Her husband was not implicated.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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