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Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 11:46 UK

Thai ex-PM guilty of corruption

Thaksin Shinawatra - 21/09/2008
Thaksin Shinawatra has been living in the UK

Thailand's fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra has been found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison by the Thai Supreme Court.

In a landmark ruling, he was found to have violated conflict of interest rules in helping his wife buy land from a state agency at a knock-down price.

The couple fled to the UK in August, saying they would not get a fair trial.

The decision comes amid growing tension between the former leader's supporters and his opponents.

The ruling is the first in a string of stalled and slow-moving cases against Thaksin, former owner and now honorary chairman of Manchester City Football Club, launched in the wake of the 2006 military coup.

The coup leaders claimed there had been massive corruption and abuse of power under Thaksin's rule, and set up a special unit to investigate the business dealings of the former leader and his close associates.

His wife, Pojaman, was convicted of tax evasion in July and sentenced to three years in jail but was acquitted by the Supreme Court in the current case.

Political tensions

The nine-member court ruled by five to four that Thaksin had violated the constitution in involving himself in the land deal.

"Thaksin had violated the article of the constitution on conflict of interest, as he was then prime minister and head of government who was supposed to work for the benefit of the public," one judge said as he read the verdict.

CASES AGAINST THAKSIN FAMILY
Case one: Corruption charges related to purchase of state land by his wife. Who: Thaksin and his wife. Status: Thaksin guilty, wife acquitted
Case two: Abuse of power linked to government lottery scheme. Who: Thaksin and several former Cabinet ministers. Status: Case accepted by Supreme Court
Case three: Abuse of power related to state loan to Burma alleged to have benefited family business. Who: Thaksin. Status: Case accepted by Supreme Court
Case four: Concealing assets. Who: Thaksin, wife and two others. Status: Awaiting court decision on proceeding to trial
Case five: Tax evasion. Who: Members of Thaksin's family. Status: Pojaman Shinawatra and her brother jailed for three years, her secretary for two years
Several other claims also lodged

The case stems from Pojaman's purchase in an auction of about 13 acres (five hectares) of prime land in central Bangkok in 2003 for 772 million baht ($22.4m).

The land was bought from the Financial Institutions Development Fund (FIDF), a government agency that had been set up to bail-out debt-ridden banks.

The FIDF had taken ownership of the land in 1995 to cover the losses of the collapsed Erawan Trust.

Prime ministers and their spouses are barred from doing business with government agencies.

Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001-2006, said the charges were politically motivated and that he had expected the Supreme Court to sentence him, Reuters news agency reported. He told Reuters he was not seeking asylum in the UK.

The chief prosecutor in the case said he wanted Britain to "quickly extradite" Thaksin.

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Anti-government protesters celebrate the court's decision

The verdict takes Thaksin another step away from returning to Thai politics, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Bangkok.

It is welcome news for the protesters who have been camped outside Government House for weeks, demanding the resignation of the government, saying it is too close to Thaksin, our correspondent adds.

The administration of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat - who is Thaksin's brother-in-law - has been virtually paralysed by the protests.

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