Verdict could be used to pursue damage to state
The Supreme Court's verdict to seize about Bt46 billion of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's money is a civil case, which can treacherously be followed by a series of criminal cases.
The verdict offers leads for other legal action to be pursued against Thaksin.
The rulings are clear: Thaksin and his former wife Pojaman na Pombejra concealed their assets, and Thaksin abused his power to enrich himself via Shin Corp. The court ruled to take away the "enrichment" that Thaksin did not deserve and returned Bt30 billion of his money earned before he entered politics in February 2001.
The verdict has taken the steam out of Thai politics, which had threatened to boil over on Friday evening with much-feared post-verdict violence. Politically, it looks like a compromise.
Thaksin looked confused after the verdict. He appeared in a black suit and tie as a protest. He said he could not understand why the state took away money that his family had earned honestly. "Weren't the stock prices of Siam Cement or PTT rising in the same manner?" he said. Thaksin vowed to take on the ammart - the mandarins - who he believed were pulling the strings behind his downfall.
But the Supreme Court's rulings only temporarily delay the brewing conflict. Thaksin's hopes of getting his Bt30 billion back will not be easy, as the Finance Ministry is asking for an extension of the freeze on another Bt14 billion in unpaid taxes from the Shin Corp transactions. This involves his children Panthongtae and Pinthongta, who inadvertently have been embroiled in the legal mess that they had very little knowledge about. Thaksin could lose even more money.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission is not going to sit still either. It is expected to file criminal charges against Thaksin and Pojaman for lying about their assets. While serving as prime minister from 2001-2006, Thaksin had declared that he had only around Bt500 million in assets, while Pojaman had declared Bt8 billion to Bt9 billion. The 1997 constitution barred a public office holder from holding state concessions and having more than a 5-per-cent stake in any companies. Any share ownership beyond 5 per cent would have to be transferred to a blind trust. This was aimed at preventing a conflict of interest.
The Supreme Court's ruling in the Bt76-billion assets-seizure case clearly shows Thaksin and Pojaman violated this constitutional requirement, as the couple still owned the chunk of the 48-per-cent stake in Shin Corp while Thaksin served as premier between 2001 and 2006. They concealed the assets through nominees.
In his first asset-concealment case in 2001, Thaksin narrowly escaped impeachment when the Constitution Court cleared him in a controversial ruling. Thaksin concealed his assets via his household maids. He admitted to making an "honest mistake".
But he walked away from this "honest mistake" to commit exactly the same mistake, this time through his children, relatives, Ample Rich Investment and Win Mark - both offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. The money trail came into the open after the sale of Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings of Singapore in 2006, because all of Thaksin's shares held overseas were transferred back to Bangkok for the Bt69-billion transaction without paying any tax. The chicken finally came home to roost.
With the exception of the prosecutor's charge that Thaksin abused his power by amending the Advanced Info Service (AIS) concession on the roaming service to benefit AIS, Thaksin was found guilty in all the other four cases of policy corruption. The authorities at TOT cannot sit still either. The revenue-sharing percentage of a prepaid mobile concession agreement between AIS and state-owned TOT was reduced by the Thaksin government from 25 per cent to 20 per cent. This resulted in TOT losing Bt70.2 billion in revenue, comprising an estimated loss of Bt14.2 billion from 2001-06 and another estimated loss of Bt56 billion from 2006-15.
TOT will be forced to protect its interest by filing a separate lawsuit seeking compensation for the damage caused by the concession amendment.
A failure to enforce a satellite concession contract between Shin Satellite (ShinSat) and the Transport Ministry resulted in a loss to the state of Bt20 billion. ShinSat, a unit of Shin Corp and since renamed Thaicom, was supposed to invest in Thaicom 4, a back-up satellite costing Bt4 billion, under its contract with the government. However, the contract was changed to allow ShinSat to switch to launch the commercially oriented iPSTAR satellite instead of Thaicom 4.
In addition, the concession contract was amended to reduce Shin Corp's investment burden in ShinSat from 51 per cent to 40 per cent.
Now the Finance Ministry and the Information and Communications Technology Ministry will have to determine whether or how the AIS concession amendments impacted the state coffers. Stock investors have already priced a discount into the possibility that AIS could be sued over revisions of the telecom concessions.
The Supreme Court cited Surapong Suebwonglee, the then ICT minister, as having been involved in the amendments of the telecom concession. There is a high possibility that those technically involved in the amendments might be taken to court.
The state-owned Export-Import Bank of Thailand was persuaded to extend a Bt4-billion loan to the Burmese government to buy satellite services and equipment from ShinSat. This later required the Finance Ministry to set aside Bt670 million as interest subsidy covering the 12-year loan contract. This could lead to a separate lawsuit by the authorities.
In total, losses suffered by the state are higher than Bt100 billion, for which Thaksin could face suits to recover the amount. Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij has hinted that if the bank accounts of Thaksin in Thailand do not cover the claims from the state, the government will pursue Thaksin's assets overseas.