Former Thai PM 'down to last R5bn'

    Bangkok – Thailand's fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra can now lay his hands on just $500-million (about R5-billion) – about a tenth of his estimated previous wealth, the Nation newspaper said Friday.

    The founder of Thailand's biggest telecoms conglomerate was thought to be worth around $5-billion before he was ousted in a September 2006 military coup.

    Thai authorities have frozen the equivalent of around $2-billion in Thaksin's local bank accounts and he is believed to have lost heavily as the global financial markets plunged.

    The newspaper speculates that Thaksin may return to Thailand to try to prise his frozen wealth from the authorities – even though he faces a two-year prison term after being found guilty of involvement in a corrupt land deal.

    The widespread assumption is that Thaksin's recent divorce from his wife Pojaman was designed to give her more freedom to travel and to try to secure the release of seized funds.

    According to an unconfirmed earlier report by the British authorities had frozen $4-billion of his assets, prompting him, among other things, to sell Manchester City Football Club. Thaksin's British visa was also revoked in November.

    The tycoon has apparently engaged in oil, rice and gold futures trading, exceeding "450 million dollars in face value" and in building condos in Dubai and in other portfolio investments, many in markets where values have crumbled.

    Thaksin was banned from politics for five years in May 2007, yet the pro-Thaksin People Power Party won a December 23, 2007 election. A combination of elite opposition, the takeover of Bangkok's two airports by militant anti-Thaksin protestors and, finally, a court decision to dissolve the PPP for electoral fraud enabled the rival Democrat Party to forge a new government coalition, even though they came second in the last national poll.

    The dynamic so-called CEO premier's remaining popularity will be partly tested Sunday when pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" militants are scheduled to rally in opposition to the new government.

    A sign that Thaksin's political potency may be declining along with his bank balance came recently when an important and previously loyal faction of rural politicians defected to the new coalition.

    Thailand's biggest selling Thai language newspaper Thai Rath said on Wednesday Thaksin may risk all by flying home to save his political base which is now clearly in danger.

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