Ex-Thai PM faces arrest
Thaksin and his wife refuse to return home to stand trial for corruption.
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2008 03:54 GMT
Thaksin blamed political interference in the justice system for his decision to flee back to the UK [AFP]

Thailand's Supreme Court has issued arrest warrants for Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, and Pojaman, his wife, after they skipped bail and fled to Britain.

Earlier on Monday, Thaksin said he would not return to Thailand to face graft charges but will instead remain in exile.

Thaksin, a billionaire telecoms tycoon turned politician, and Pojaman both face a raft of corruption charges that were instigated by a military junta which overthrew him in September 2006.

After 18 months in self-imposed exile, Thaksin vowed to fight the charges against him in a high-profile homecoming in February.

But on Monday he said he could not do that from within Thailand, blaming political  interference in the justice system.

"My wife and I will stay in England where democracy is more  important," he said in a hand-written  statement released to the media.

He did not indicate when he intended to return to Thailand,  urging his supporters "to be patient for a short while".

"If I have a chance, I will come back to die on Thai ground," he  added.

Political interference

Thaksin, who was first elected in 2001, accused unnamed foes of "interfering in the justice process ... by the group of people who see me as their political enemy."

The former premier and his wife were in China over the weekend for the opening of the Beijing Olympics, and rumours had circulated in Thailand that they would remain overseas as the graft cases mounted against them.

Pojaman was convicted on July 31 of tax evasion and released on bail, and the couple had been ordered to appear before the Supreme Court on Monday to defend themselves in a separate property case.

They had received special permission from the courts to travel abroad.

Thaksin flew to Japan on July 31, and his wife joined him in Beijing on Thursday.

A former legal advisor close to Thaksin said they had both now flown to Britain, where Thaksin has a home and has spent most of his time since the coup.

Elections last December swept Thaksin's allies in the People Power Party back into power, infuriating the elites in the military, palace and bureaucracy which felt threatened by the former premier's hold on the rural population.

However, street protests have so far scuppered the PPP's plans to amend the new constitution - brought in under military rule -  which currently grants wide power to non-elected officials in the courts and bureaucracy.

Thailand's courts have dealt a series of blows to the new government, with three top officials forced to resign after legal decisions.

After the coup, Thai courts also froze more than $2bn of Thaksin's assets, a move which did not stop him from buying Premier League club Manchester City in July 2007.

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