World News

Convicted Thai ex-PM Thaksin facing possible royal insults charge

BANGKOK — Thailand’s attorney general is considering prosecuting convicted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra over an alleged insult of the powerful monarchy, an official said on Tuesday, just weeks away from his possible release on parole.

The complaint concerns a 2015 interview he gave while in South Korea and was filed by a junta that ran Thailand after the military overthrew a government led by Mr. Thaksin’s sister. He has repeatedly pledged loyalty to the monarchy.

Insulting the crown is a serious offense and a major slur in Thailand, where the constitution states the king must be held in a position of “revered worship”. The lese-majeste law is among the world’s strictest, with each perceived offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The influential Mr. Shinawatra, prime minister from 2001-2006, made a dramatic homecoming last August from 15 years in self-imposed exile to serve an eight-year jail sentence for abuse of power, later commuted to one year by the king.

The billionaire is being detained at a hospital with an undisclosed health problem and has yet to spend a full night in prison. He is eligible for parole later this month.

Prayut Petchkhun, spokesperson for the attorney-general’s office, told reporters the seven-year delay in acting on the royal insults complaint was because Mr. Thaksin had been abroad.

He gave no timeframe for when a decision would be taken, adding Mr. Thaksin, 74, had denied wrongdoing and provided authorities with “a letter requesting fairness”. He did not elaborate on the allegation against the former prime minister.

If Mr. Thaksin is freed he would be detained by police, Mr. Prayut said, adding he could be released temporarily while the attorney general considers whether to press charges.

Mr. Thaksin’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thailand current government is backed by the Shinawatra family, with Mr. Thaksin’s return coinciding with ally and real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin becoming prime minister that same day.

Mr. Thaksin’s allies have denied speculation of a backroom political deal between the former leader and his powerful enemies.

The announcement of a possible new case against the ex prime minister comes a week after Move Forward, the biggest party in parliament, was forced by a court to abandon its controversial plan to amend the lese-majeste law.

Move Forward was hit days after by a succession of complaints seeking its dissolution and life bans for dozens of lawmakers over its stance on the law protecting the crown. — Reuters