Thai police have charged former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with insulting the monarchy over comments he made almost a decade ago.
Officials said on Tuesday that the complaint concerns a 2015 interview that Thaksin gave while in South Korea. The potential charge comes just weeks before his possible release on parole. Although it is not yet clear if the case will go ahead, the jailed billionaire is the latest political figure to face prosecution under the country’s strict lese majeste laws.
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The complaint was filed by the military government that ran Thailand after overthrowing a government led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014. Thaksin has repeatedly pledged loyalty to the monarchy.
Prayuth Pecharakun, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, told reporters that the long delay in acting on the complaint was due to Thaksin’s previous absence from the country.
The controversial billionaire, twice a prime minister but overthrown in a 2006 coup, returned from self-exile in August last year. He was immediately jailed on corruption and abuse-of-power charges.
The 74-year-old was transferred to a police hospital almost straight away and has undergone at least two operations.
Prosecutors will wait for police to complete their investigation before deciding whether to proceed with the case, Prayuth said.
Thaksin denies the charge and has written to the attorney general asking for fair treatment, he added.
Insulting the crown is a serious offence in Thailand, where the constitution states the king must be held in a position of “revered worship”.
The lese majeste law is one of the strictest of its kind in the world, carrying a jail sentence of 15 years for each perceived insult to the monarchy. Critics say the law has been weaponised to silence dissent.
There has been a surge in charges under the laws – known in Thailand as “112” after the relevant section of the criminal code – since youth-led pro-democracy street protests in 2020. At least 260 people have been prosecuted under it in recent years.
Thaksin’s return to Thailand coincided with his Pheu Thai Party’s return to power in a controversial deal with promilitary parties.
The timing triggered rumours of a backroom deal to help Thaksin with his legal troubles. That speculation was fuelled further when the king cut his jail sentence from eight years to one year.
Loved by millions of rural Thais for his populist policies in the early 2000s, Thaksin is reviled by the country’s royalist and promilitary establishment, which spent much of the past two decades trying to keep him and his allies out of power.