Defending Thaksin is a 'once-in-a-lifetime' job
Once a low-profile junior politician, Noppadon Pattama found instant fame when he became a legal adviser to deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family, something the 45-year-old says he did not fully expect.
He told The Nation he took the job because he wanted to repay a debt of gratitude to Thaksin, who had appointed him as an assistant minister shortly after he switched from the Democrat Party to Thai Rak Thai in May. Noppadon served in the post for three months, until the September 19 military coup.
"He's been kind to me and now he needs my services," Noppadon explained, adding that it was Thaksin's legal team who approached him.
Noppadon said he believed he was selected for the job because of his political savvy, loyalty and tendency to keep secrets, as well as his legal expertise.
He described the job as an honour and a "once-in-a-lifetime experience".
"It's not fame or fortune that led me to accept the job," he said.
He said the fees his firm charges Thaksin would be higher than the normal hourly rate of Bt4,000 to Bt12,000, but he declined to provide an exact amount.
"In fact, we haven't discussed this matter in detail, but I believe the former prime minister will pay an appropriate fee," he said during a casual interview at his office on Ratchadaphisek Road.
Noppadon described the new-found attention he received from the media as well as people on the street as "unwanted fame".
He is strictly a legal adviser for Thaksin, not his lawyer, and as a result he will not represent Thaksin in the courtroom, he said.
In addition to providing legal advice, he has also held press conferences on Thaksin's behalf "to provide explanations and facts".
These press conferences, at the luxurious Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, have focused on the deposed premier's activities in countries around Thailand and speculation about his possible return.
The hotel was chosen because there is a close connection between its major shareholders and Thai Rak Thai's acting deputy leader Pongthep Thepkanchana, Noppadon said.
He has been in touch with Thaksin by telephone but the calls were made "only when necessary", he said.
Thaksin's legal team is prepared for a long, tough battle.
"We will walk to the end of the road," Noppadon said, referring to the Supreme Court.
He said the legal team continued to gather evidence to defend Thaksin and expressed hope that the state agencies investigating allegations against the ousted premier had not arrived at a "forgone conclusion".
Noppadon's academic background is outstanding. He won the prestigious Ananta Mahidol scholarship after graduating at the top of his class from Thammasat University's Faculty of Law in 1982.
He also won a Fulbright scholarship in the same year to study in any US university. However, he gave up that scholarship to study law in the United Kingdom where he completed three law degrees from Oxford and London universities, one with honours.
He studied for six years in the UK, married a fellow Thai student there and became a father. His daughter now studies law at Chulalongkorn University.
Noppadon is divorced and describes himself as "single again".
It was also in the UK that Noppadon met Chuan Leekpai, then the leader of the Democrat Party, for the first time. He joined the party after returning to Thailand in 1991, shortly after the government of Chatichai Choonhavan was overthrown in a military coup in February that year.
Noppadon served as secretary to Chuan when the veteran politician was the opposition leader. Later, he became secretary to then-foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, also a Democrat.
He left the party to join Thai Rak Thai at the invitation of an old friend, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, who is also a "Democrat alumnus".
Noppadon said he left the party for ideological reasons. "The Democrat Party has a lot of capable persons - capable of speaking," he quipped.
He was quick to add, however, that he still had high respect for Chuan.
Noppadon said he joined Thai Rak Thai when it was on a "downward trend", which indicated that he had no ulterior motive for switching allegiance.
His ties with the Democrats gave him no advantage in working as Thaksin's legal adviser, he said. "They [Democrats] won't hesitate to criticise me. I don't think Thaksin chose me because I used to be a Democrat."