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Thaksin - from Russia with love

Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday said in a phone-in to his supporters that he had landed in Russia to engage a Russian businessman in connection with an investment in Thailand.

The fugitive ex-prime minister's whereabouts were in the spotlight again during the course of the day, with Vice Foreign Minister Panich Vikitsreth saying he had left Sweden for an unknown destination.

Thaksin, who is avoiding a Thai jail sentence for corruption, entered Sweden on Sunday using a passport of a third country, according to Panich, who did not specify the passport-issuing country.

Thaksin recently obtained a Montenegro passport and is believed also to carry the passports of several other countries.

A Democrat source meanwhile claimed that Thaksin was requesting shelter in Brunei.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban was quoted as telling a Democrat meeting that Thaksin's request had been discussed during Prime Minister Ahbisit Vejjajiva's official visit to Brunei on Monday.

"Brunei's response to Thaksin's request clearly shows that the country is in favour of the Thai government," Suthep said.

Panich yesterday said the Foreign Ministry had obtained an assurance from the Swedish authorities that the Scandinavian country would adhere to its principle of not allowing any individuals to use it as a base for political activities against its allies.

Suthep said earlier yesterday that Thaksin's frequent speeches beamed from overseas to the red shirts' protest site had had a strong impact on the rally and the stalled talks between the government and the protest leaders.

He said the authorities had been unable to locate Thaksin, as he was constantly moving from place to place.

Meanwhile, the Department of Special Investigation is to investigate whether Panthongtae and Pinthongta Shinawatra have withdrawn almost Bt1 billion from their frozen bank accounts in defiance of the law.

Tharid Phengdit, director-general of the department, said he had received a letter from the Revenue Department claiming the two children of Thaksin had taken the money from the frozen accounts.

The Revenue Department wants to know whether the withdrawal is legal.

Tharid said that by Friday the DSI investigation should have been completed and the answer should then be known.

The Supreme Court, in its February 26 ruling, ordered the seizure of Bt46 billion of Thaksin and his family's Bt76 billion, the total amount of which had been frozen in local bank accounts.

But the Finance Ministry has followed up by asking for a continuation of a freeze on Bt13 billion, pending an outcome of a tax dispute between the Revenue Department and Panthongtae and Pinthongta over their Shin Corp share transactions involving Ample Rich Investment.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said on Sunday the two children of the Shinawatras had withdrawn almost Bt1 billion without prior authorisation from government authorities.

Tharid said the DSI had already set up a panel to see whether the withdrawal of the money was in violation of the securities law and tax codes.

He added that the DSI was in the process of gathering further evidence to decide whether it would reopen the SC Asset case against Thaksin for alleged asset concealment.

The Comptroller-General's Department will in a few days direct up to six commercial banks to transfer Bt46 billion in about 30 accounts of Thaksin and his family to the treasury.

Director-general Pongpanu Savetarun said yesterday the transfers could be completed without having to wait for the outcome of the Shianwatras' appeals to the Supreme Court.

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