Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday that his corruption conviction in his country this week was punishment for being a successful leader who represented liberal democracy.
Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, said in a statement that the Thai Supreme Court's ruling was driven by politically motivated "privileged elites."
The court sentenced him to two years in prison in a case relating to a real estate deal by his wife, who was acquitted. But Thaksin said "no evidence of fraud, corruption nor abuse of power" was presented during the case.
"I was quite guilty (be)cause I was quite a successful politician."
Thai prosecutors have said they plan to seek Thaksin's extradition from Britain, where he has lived since skipping bail in August.
Thaksin remains Thailand's most influential politician. He is adored in rural areas of the nation, where he built up a political base during his six years in power, but reviled by many of the educated elite in the cities, where his administration was seen as deeply corrupt.
Billionaire Thaksin, who recently sold English Premier League soccer team Manchester City to Abu Dhabi investors, said he was being persecuted by "privileged elites who believe in anything but democracy. I am a threat to them because I represent the principle of liberal democracy."
The charges stemmed from Thaksin enabling his wife Pojaman Shinawatra to pay $23 million in 2003 to buy a 13.2-acre plot in central Bangkok from the Financial Institutions Development Fund, a government agency set up to bail out debt-ridden banks.
Thaksin said he was relieved that his wife had been cleared.
"I pulled her into enough troubles because of my political ambition to bring greatness and well-being to my country and my people," Thaksin said.