PM's Office Minister Nalinee Taveesin said yesterday she would retain her position in the Cabinet despite demands by the Opposition that she step down as her name figures on a US Treasury Department blacklist for dealings with the Zimbabwean regime.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) put her name on the list of Zimbabwean specially designated nationals (SDN) in November 2008, banning her from doing business with American citizens or entities for being involved in business transactions with Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
Nalinee said at a press conference yesterday she had only social connections with Mugabe, not business dealings, as alleged. She has hired lawyers J Michael Farrell in Washington to clarify her role, but the OFAC has not reacted so far.
The minister said she had got to know Mugabe and his wife in 2002 when the leader of the African state visited Thailand. Mugabe has re-turned to Thailand several times since then with the assistance of Nalinee.
Nalinee said she had also helped many Zimbabwean students to study in Thailand and even brought Zimbabwean officials to visit many royal projects over the past years. “These are real social relations for the benefit of good relations, no business deals,” she said.
“The west and the east might have a different perspective on this matter. We, Thai people, emphasise friendship and relations. I was sanctioned for making friends with foreigners. I never imagined such friendship would bring trouble to my political life.”
The opposition tried to twist the issue by saying the blacklist banned her from entering the US, which was not true, she said and added she had obtained a long-term visa from the US authorities.
Asked if she had visited the US since 2008, she said she had had no business to attend to in the US in recent times.
Nalinee said she would use her knowledge and ability to do the job and asked for a chance to work in the Cabinet.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut linked Nalinee with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, saying she had got the position to benefit Thaksin’s jewellery business in Africa.
However, Nalinee said she had no experience in jewellery.
Thaksin reportedly has a stake in the Global PS Telecom Investment Co, which held a 34.99-per-cent share in the Johannesburg-listed Miranda-Mineral.
Global PS Telecom Investment Co is now under investigation by African authorities, Chavanond said. “That’s the reason Nalinee was brought into the position because she had good relations with leaders in African countries.”
Chavanond demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra fire Nalinee before she is sworn in today.
Having Nalinee in the Cabinet was too big a risk for Thailand and be included in the US sanction against Zimbabwe, he said.