THAILAND : Amnesty Bill ‘not to whitewash Thaksin cases’

Prayuth insists plan linked to political turbulence, not to return of assets

The revised version of the amnesty bill will not cover corruption or individual criminal cases including those faced by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Prayuth Siripanich insisted yesterday after facing a flood of questions.

Prayuth, deputy chair of a House committee vetting the amnesty bill, sponsored the amended clauses that grant blanket amnesty.

“The amnesty will not be applied to Thaksin because his legal predicament stemmed from alleged abuse of power with no links to political rallies,” he told The Nation yesterday.

The 35-member ad hoc committee voted on Friday to rewrite a clause proposed by Prayuth that includes people facing legal action in cases stemming from investigations post the 2006 coup.

The most controversial point in the revised version is the expansion of the bill’s coverage to include those accused of wrongdoing by the now-defunct Assets Examination Committee, which was set up after the 2006 coup to investigate alleged irregularities by the Thaksin government.

In October 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced the former PM to two years in jail for alleged abuse of power in relation to the Ratchadaphisek land scandal, after his then-wife bought a state-seized plot for a price much lower than the market price.

In February 2010, the court seized Bt46 billion of Thaksin’s assets believed to have been earned from abuse of power, though other cases against him have been suspended while he remains a fugitive abroad.

Asked if Thaksin will get back the Bt46 billion, Prayuth said the amnesty bill does not allow for the seized assets to be returned. 

“I confirm this. You can execute me [if I’m wrong]. The amnesty is all about justice. I will oppose any attempts to cite the amnesty as cause to undo the asset seizure,” he said.

According to Prayuth, his proposal will only cover incidents linked to the political turbulence.

“The yellow shirts, the red shirts, state officials, soldiers in charge of crowd control, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Democrat MP Suthep Thuagsuban will be absolved as well as the recent anti-government rallies, such as the ones at Urupong intersection and Lumpini Park,” he said.

Prayuth’s proposal caused a stir among opposition parties, while both anti-Thaksin groups and red-shirt protesters called on their members to get ready to stage big protests. Even Pheu Thai Party was split.

A key Pheu Thai member and a close aide to Thaksin said this was just the right time to whitewash the former premier’s cases. “The Yingluck Shinawatra administration is entering its halfway mark, meaning it has no time to ‘play safe’, but will have to start ‘taking risks’,” he said.

“The Constitutional Court has recently ruled in favour of the government, so it appears to be a good sign. That’s why this is the right time to push for the amnesty bill,” the source said.

He went on to say that in the 2011 general elections, many people voted for Pheu Thai because they wanted Thaksinto return.

“Now it will become a symbolic fight. Our plan is if there are many protests and they force us to dissolve the House, then we will use the bill as a key campaigning tool in the new election,” he said.

Meanwhile the change came as a surprise for the ruling party’s strategic committee, which is led by former premierSomchai Wongsawat and politicians close to Yingluck. They did not find out about the revision until Friday, when the vetting panel announced its resolution to revise the bill.

“The blanket amnesty could work against the government as it has woken up the anti-government groups. This idea has come from politicians close to Thaksin,” a source from the strategic committee said.

“They have forgotten why the government was unable to pass the reconciliation bill and the charter changes last year.

“They will not just be creating a new political morass, but will also earn the government a negative rating from its red-shirt supporters. The ruling party needs to rethink this.”

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