A special anti-corruption agency ordered more than $1.6 billion in assets belonging to Thailand's ousted prime minister and his wife to be frozen Monday pending a court determination of whether it was obtained illegally.
The Assets Examination Committee, set up after Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed in a bloodless coup in September, said money in bank accounts and other financial assets belonging to the couple could be seized if they are found to have been gained illegally.
"The committee found evidence that Thaksin during his time as prime minister committed corruption and illegal acts as well as being unusually rich," it said in a statement.
The committee's order is a major new blow for the telecommunications tycoon, who was deposed as prime minister amid allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
Prime minister from 2001-06, Thaksin made his fortune largely from a government-granted cell phone operating concession. He used some of the money to start a new party, Thai Rak Thai, as a springboard to power.
Thaksin's lawyer and de facto spokesman in Thailand, Noppadol Pattama, said the former leader had been informed about the committee's decision.
"He feels that he and his wife have been unfairly and illegally treated by the AEC, and will fight and defend his innocence by bringing legal action in criminal and civil cases claiming compensation for loss of opportunity," Noppadol said.
Forbes estimate: $2.2 billion
Thaksin's net worth is difficult to tally, because much of his fortune is kept in the names of other members of his extended family, and because it is unclear how much is kept in Thai baht and how much in other currencies, whose values go up and down.
But Forbes magazine, in a listing in July 2006 of Thailand's richest people, put Thaksin and his family in fourth place with an estimated fortune of $2.2 billion.
Earlier this year, Thaksin made a takeover offer of a reported $212 million for the English Premier League soccer team Manchester City.
Noppadol also said that the committee's decision would not affect Thaksin's decision to stay away from Thailand for the time being. Thaksin has been splitting in his time between staying at a residence in London and traveling around Asia.
Noppadol described the committee's actions, which take effect immediately, as "just another political decision to persecute the former prime minister."
Last month, the military-appointed Constitutional Tribunal dissolved the party and barred its top 111 leaders from public office for five years after finding it guilty of violating electoral laws in last year's general election.
Committee spokesman Sak Korsaengruang said his agency issued two orders covering the assets of Thaksin and his wife, Pojamarn.
The first order freezes 21 of their bank accounts containing money they made from last year's $1.9 billion sale of Shin Corp., the flagship company for the family's telecommunications holdings, to Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd., a Singapore state investment company. The committee said $1.63 billion in funds from that deal remains in those bank accounts, two of which belong to Thaksin's children, who were the nominal holders of most of the family's Shin Corp shares.
The second orders all accounts held by the couple in banks and other financial institutions in Bangkok to be frozen pending an investigation of whether they were obtained through corruption. It was unclear how much additional money this might cover.
Thaksin and his wife have 60 days to appeal the committee's actions. Noppadol said that Thaksin would disclose the source of funds in every account.
The committee highlighted several allegations against Thaksin and his family, including charges of tax avoidance on the Shin Corp sale; the improper use of power in a Bangkok real estate purchase by Thaksin's wife; and the suspicious contracts involving Bangkok's new international airport, which opened last year.
Noppadol said they hoped the freezing of the assets would not affect Thaksin's proposal to buy Manchester City, but that they would have to reassess the situation.
The announcement came a day after Thaksin's military-appointed successor, Surayud Chulanont, gave a nationally broadcast speech saying the "cancer" of corruption must be eradicated from Thailand if the country is to become a thriving democracy.
"We as a nation will not achieve good and honest government if we allow corruption and disregard for the rule of law to continue," Surayud said.
He said that under Thaksin, "the rule of law came under fierce attack from the powerful, the rich and cronies. Corruption washed through our government."