Under the second case Thaksin is accused of not declaring all his assets as required by political office holders. If convicted he faces a jail term of up to 15 years.

 

Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, Thaksin, who has had nearly $2bn of his family assets frozen, told foreign media that he and his wife were ready to "prove our innocence".

 

Dozens of police equipped with bomb detectors and sniffer dogs were deployed around the court for Thaksin's appearance, while supporters waited outside.

 

Some burst into tears when he emerged after the hearing, shouting "Thaksin, fight, fight" and holding up portraits of the former leader.

 

"He's a good man. He helps poor people," one woman told Al Jazeera.

 

"Today, guilty or not he will have to explain that to the court. Everybody here loves him. For us, a little of this and that we can forgive him. He is the one who gives so many things to our country."

 

The deposed prime minister was given a pop star's welcome when he returned to Thailand at the end of February, ending 18 months of self-imposed exile following the 2006 coup.

 

The hundreds of supporters were bussed in from around the country – many apparently having been paid to do so – to welcome his return at Bangkok's international airport.

 

Revenge

 

Thaksin has denied planning to return to politics and rejected suggestions that he has returned to seek revenge against those who forced him from power.

 

"Let bygones be bygones," he told reporters on Tuesday.

 

Thaksin has been granted special permission to leave Thailand on Thursday for a month-long trip to England where he owns Premier League football team Manchester City.

 

"Thaksin told the court he needed to go back to England to look after his soccer team and do some private business," said spokesman Pongthep Thepkanjana.

 

Legal officials have said the former prime minister and his wife do not have to appear in court for future hearings in the case, although Thaksin himself has said he plans to be back in Thailand in time for the Songkran Thai new year festival next month.

 

Thaksin's rise and fall

Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless coup
in September 2006 [GALLO/GETTY]
Born in 1949 into family of Chinese silk merchants

 

Joined police force before winning a scholarship to study criminal justice in US

 

Started computer dealership in 1987 which evolved into Shin Corp telecoms conglomerate, making him one of Thailand's richest and most powerful men

 

Entering politics, he won landslide victories in 2001 and 2005, backed by Thailand's rural and urban workers

 

But corruption scandals and alleged abuses of power eroded his popularity among Bangkok's middle class

 

His family's tax-free sale in 2006 of their $1.9bn stake in Shin Corp to Singapore's state investment firm triggered street protests

 

In effort to defuse growing anger, Thaksin called snap elections which were later annulled

 

In September 2006, with Thaksin in New York to address the UN, Thailand's armed forces moved to oust him in a bloodless coup