BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is seeking to prosecute ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for graft under a law that allows politicians to be tried in absentia, an official said on Tuesday, months after Thaksin’s sister was sentenced to jail in her absence.
Thailand is divided broadly between those backing Thaksin and his sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was removed in a 2014 coup, and the elite in the capital, Bangkok.
A former commerce minister and member of Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party that was ousted in the coup said the planned prosecution of Thaksin was politically motivated.
The former telecommunications tycoon was ousted in a 2006 coup and has since lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a graft conviction in 2008 he says was politically motivated.
Separate cases against Thaksin, including graft cases in 2008 and 2012, had to be suspended until he returned to Thailand for trial.
But an amendment to the law in September makes it possible for politicians to be prosecuted in their absence.
The 2008 and 2012 cases involved Thaksin’s alleged conflict of interest in a telecoms concession and suspected abuse of power.
“Public prosecutors put in a request to the supreme court today to proceed with the two cases without presence of the accused, in accordance with the new law,” Wanchart Santikunchorn, a spokesman for the office of the attorney-general, told reporters.
Thaksin was not immediately available for comment.
Thaksin re-shaped Thai politics after building a business empire, winning staunch support with populist policies that raised living standards, especially among the rural poor, and propelled him or his loyalists to victory in every election since 2001.
Yingluck fled the country in August, ahead of a verdict in a negligence trial, but was eventually found guilty and handed down a five-year jail term in absentia in September.
Former commerce minister Watana Muangsook said the junta was damaging the country with politically motivated court cases.
“The law which allows court proceedings in absentia of the accused is aimed at destroying the regime’s political opposition,” Watana said in a statement to Reuters.
Wanchart denied the moves against the Shinawatra family were biased, saying they were in line with the newly amended law.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Nick Macfie