BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court on Wednesday granted bail of 1 million baht ($30,000) to the son of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra after he was indicted of money laundering, a case his supporters condemned as politically motivated.
Supporters of the Shinawatras, backed by poor, rural voters, accuse the military government, which took power after a 2014 coup, of seeking to hobble the family and its allies ahead of a general election set for next year. The government denies that.
Panthongtae Shinawatra, 38, also known by his nickname “Oak”, went to the attorney general’s office to face the indictment, accompanied by both his sisters and many senior members of the Thaksin-backed Puea Thai Party.
“The court has set Nov. 5 as the date for my client to accept or deny the charge,” his lawyer, Chumsai Sriyaphai, told Reuters. “Oak has always rejected any wrongdoing in this case.”
Panthongtae declined to speak to reporters.
After granting bail, the court ordered Panthongtae not to leave the country without permission.
In a statement earlier, the attorney general said, “Panthongtae Shinawatra will be prosecuted...on charges of money laundering and conspiring to launder money of the amount of 10 million baht.”
Last year, authorities formally charged him with having received a cheque for 10 million baht ($304,000) in 2004, in relation to a prior corruption case over fraudulent loans of 9.9 billion baht made by state-owned Krungthai Bank when his father was prime minister.
If found guilty, Panthongtae could face a jail term of up to 10 years. The 15-year statute of limitations on the crime was set to expire next year, had he not been taken to court.
“I believe that Oak did not know the money he received came from wrongdoing,” party member Watana Muangsook told reporters.
Thaksin, whose populist movement’s struggle with the Thai establishment has dominated politics for more than a decade, lives in exile after fleeing Thailand to escape a jail sentence for corruption following his overthrow in a 2006 coup.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, overthrown as prime minister in 2014, fled Thailand in August last year to avoid conviction in a criminal negligence case she said was politically motivated.
Later, she was sentenced in absentia to five years in jail.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez