Former Thai premier found guilty of corruption

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Thai court found former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty of corruption Tuesday and sentenced him to two years in prison, further deepening the country's paralyzing political crisis.

The guilty verdict was the first against the country's former leader since he was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

With a conviction widely anticipated, Thaksin, 59, jumped bail and fled to England two months ago along with his wife, Pojaman, 51, who was also charged. The Supreme Court acquitted her Tuesday.

Thai authorities have not yet begun efforts to extradite Thaksin.

The charges stemmed from allegations that Thaksin facilitated his wife's purchase of lucrative Bangkok real estate from a state agency in 2003, while he was prime minister.

"The defendant was the prime minister at the time. He should have been honest and ethical and should not have violated countercorruption laws," Thongloh Chomngam, head of the court's nine-judge panel, said in reading from the lengthy verdict.

Political standoff goes on
The Supreme Court's ruling made Thaksin the first politician convicted of corruption committed while prime minister, but it did little to resolve the country's political standoff.

Thaksin remains the most influential politician in the country, adored by the rural poor and loathed by many of the urban elite. His brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, is the current prime minister and has been labeled a Thaksin puppet by protesters demanding his ouster.

Anti-government protesters have been camped at the prime minister's office compound in Bangkok for nearly two months, demanding all vestiges of Thaksin's legacy be abolished.

Somchai's government has been virtually paralyzed by the protests.

The court case Tuesday stemmed from former first lady Pojaman Shinawatra's $23 million purchase of a 13.2-acre plot of land in central Bangkok from the Financial Institutions Development Fund, a government agency set up to bail out debt-ridden banks.

It was estimated to be worth three times what she paid.

Allegedly in violation of several laws
Thaksin, who served as prime minister from 2001-2006, is accused of violating several laws, including one that bars prime ministers or their spouses from doing business with government agencies.

The 59-year-old former tycoon turned politician faces a string of court cases and investigations into alleged corruption and abuse of power during his six years in office.

Thaksin has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, saying the charges were politically motivated.

The court also ordered Tuesday a fresh arrest warrant for Thaksin, who already has several warrants out for him in connection with other corruption cases.