BANGKOK (Reuters) - Exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began searching for a new home on Monday after abandoning his bid for asylum in Britain, where authorities revoked his visa last week.
“I will keep traveling. I’m leaving Beijing at the moment,” Thaksin told Reuters by telephone from the Chinese capital.
He denied Thai media reports he was building a 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) mansion at a golf resort near Beijing.
Thaksin, who had been living in London after he and his wife, Potjaman, skipped bail in August to avoid corruption charges, denied he was en route to Manila, as rumoured, but he refused to give his next destination.
British officials have declined comment publicly on the decision to revoke the couple’s visas.
Thaksin, 59, was sentenced to two years in jail last month for breaking a conflict-of-interest law during his five years in office before he was ousted in a bloodless 2006 coup.
Thai prosecutors vowed to pursue the country’s most famous fugitive, but the task was now much harder, especially if Thaksin moved to a country without an extradition treaty with Thailand.
“It’s getting more difficult, but we have to keep trying,” Sirisak Tiyapan, a senior prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General, told Reuters.
In London, newspapers cited unnamed British officials as saying the convictions against Thaksin and Potjaman, who was sentenced to three years in jail in July for tax fraud, had been a key factor behind revoking the visas.
Britain’s ambassador to Thailand, Quinton Quayle, declined comment on the case, but he told reporters in Bangkok his government was neutral in the political conflict that has gripped Thailand for three years.
Thaksin spent most of his exile after the coup living in Surrey, England, where one of his daughters attended school. The purchase of Manchester City soccer club, which he recently sold to investors from Abu Dhabi, kept him in the public eye back home.
Thaksin confirmed for the first time that he had applied for asylum in Britain, but dropped it because it would restrict his ability to speak out.
“I dropped the asylum bid because I don’t think it is necessary. I don’t like the term asylum. I want freedom because I am a champion of democracy. I don’t like anything that restricts freedom,” Thaksin said.
The billionaire tycoon said he would address supporters at rallies in northeast Thailand, where he remains popular with rural folk who helped him win two landslide election victories.
“I will phone in and talk to the people who love and have faith in me. I will make a longer speech and start naming names because they have pushed me into a corner,” he said.
Earlier this month, Thaksin made a 10-minute call from Hong Kong to a rally in Bangkok, saying only Thailand’s revered king or the people could bring him home. Opponents accused him of defaming the monarchy, a serious offence in Thailand, where lese-majeste laws carry a jail sentence of up to 15 years.
Analysts said Thaksin would have to be more careful with his political activities so as not to upset a new host country.
“He is political fire and he has to be careful not to make his host too hot,” political commentator Sukhum Nualskul said.
The campaign against Thaksin is largely driven by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an unelected group led by royalists, academics and businessmen.
The PAD, which has occupied the official compound of the prime minister’s offices since August, demanding the current government stacked with Thaksin loyalists step aside, is also pushing the government to revoke Thaksin’s diplomatic passport.
But Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, told reporters: “I am not paying attention to that petty issue because people’s stomachs are more important.”
Thailand’s political crisis has meandered through a coup to elections and back to protests and shows no signs of resolution, to the dismay of investors worried about the lack of a functioning government with a global recession looming.
Editing by Darren Schuettler and Valerie Lee