You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry…

opinion January 16, 2019 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

Even before Thaksin Shinawatra entered politics, his family was involved in dubious, if not totally illegal, business documentation. In fact, it was something in his pre-Thai Rak Thai past – the massive transfers of shares from his inner circles to people who were not supposed to have them – that kick-started Thailand’s ongoing and detrimental national divide. 



The trend of the Shinawatras using suspicious documents have continued until today, although it has been influenced more or less by political developments lately.

His younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s current passport controversy reflects what must have become the clan’s expertise in using “borderline” documents to do big things. However, whether it’s really “borderline” is even open to debate in the latest case, because if the words of a senior Cambodian government official are to be believed, she may have used a fake Cambodian passport to complete a very important business registration. This could encourage some legally shrewd people to figure out ways to “steal” her money.

Even if the Cambodian passport was genuine, legal trouble could still plague her mega-money business dealings. 

The Cambodian immigration official was spot-on in saying that everyone knows she is a Thai. Which means that accepting her “Cambodian passport” is tantamount to accepting her “political persecution” claims. That’s a big deal, with potentially great legal, diplomatic and business repercussions. If a legal precedent is set to settle a dispute stemming from the passport, a major shockwave can rattle the heavily connected world.

And it’s not just her and her brother. Thaksin’s son Panthongtae is facing legal problems that may also send him into “exile” like his father and aunt. If Yaowapa Wongsawat, who is Thaksin’s and Yingluck’s sister, is doing what she is rumoured to be doing, one day she can pop up with a non-Thai “passport” in a foreign country as well.

After he left Thailand, Thaksin bought an English Premier League football club, in addition to entering into a few major business contracts. He sold Manchester City later but there has never been news about him having business registration problems. Either he has some good lawyers or he made his business plans well, focusing on places where documentation trouble is easy to settle one way or another.

If the same goes for Yingluck – and possibly for Panthongtae and Yaowapa in the future – there should be little for the Shinawatras to worry about. After all, Thaksin and Yingluck have been able to roam the world with whatever travel documents they have, and he has reportedly been as close to Thailand as Cambodia and Singapore.

The diplomatic world will just have to keep walking the tightrope. England is either getting good at it or being incredibly lucky. 

Yingluck showed up in London all of a sudden last year and the English authorities seemed to have bought her enough time to fly to Dubai, where there is no extradition problem with Bangkok.

China chose to black out the media. According to reports, Beijing is not taking any chance when it comes to its relationship with Bangkok. 

The South China Morning Post said that while China could not ask Thaksin and Yingluck to cancel their plan to visit the southern part of the country to pay respect to their roots, Chinese authorities wielded their censorship power to make sure the siblings’ trip was out of the full view of the 

world.

It’s safe to say that if you are sentenced to jail in Thailand and you can go to the United States, England, Russia, Singapore, China and several other countries without a fuss, what passport you are holding may not be that important after all. It’s the diplomats who will do the worrying.

When the situation becomes extreme, the world has the English or Chinese model to choose from. The way England has been grappling with the problem is the same as evacuating people from a rumbling volcano because there is no better way to deal with the situation. 

China, meanwhile, did not want to cause a panic and hoped the volcano would somehow cool off and become dormant again.

The upcoming election will have great significance in the international context. If one side wins, the Shinawatras can be travelling with “better” documents. If the other side triumphs, restrictions could increase, and diplomatic headaches could multiply.

Whoever wins, chances are things will continue to be complicated. The Thai political power is like Jerusalem, as sworn enemies have been taking turns in controlling it. 

You can’t continue betting on one side. Just be on guard and have a cool head when the Shinawatras come knocking.