Thailand’s Thaksin to fight on despite corruption probe

BANGKOK, Reuters

Thai telecoms tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, front-runner in opinion polls ahead of a Jan. 6 general election, insisted on Friday he was innocent of graft and said he was still determined to be the country’s next premier.

Thaksin, leader of the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, testified before the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) for two hours on Friday morning to defend himself against allegations he concealed stakes in 17 firms.

“I have informed the NCCC committee that the income and assets that I possess have all been earned lawfully with effort, perseverance and honesty within the scope of the laws and rules of society,” Thaksin said in a statement after his testimony. He said the assets he had failed to declare were worth less than three percent of his entire declared assets worth 25 billion baht (US$575 million). He said his failure to declare the assets was due to various oversights.

The NCCC is investigating whether Thaksin deliberately concealed stakes in some of his firms by transferring shares to his domestic staff.

The NCCC has already interviewed Thaksin’s domestic servants this month. Some of the servants had millions of dollars of shares in Thaksin’s companies transferred to them. Thaksin has said this was normal business practice.

Despite a probe into his assets by the NCCC, Thaksin remains well in front of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, according to the latest opinion poll released on Friday.

The poll, conducted by Bangkok University on Dec. 3-5, showed 42.5 percent of 7,707 respondents favored Thaksin as the next prime minister, a marginal drop from 44.9 percent in an opinion poll by the university last month.

Chuan, who has been consistently in second place, saw his support among Bangkok residents decline to 24.2 percent from a previous 25.8 percent. If the NCCC ruled Thaksin deliberately concealed assets, it would pass the case to Thailand’s Constitutional Court. If the court found him guilty he would be banned from politics for five years.