BANGKOK – Under the guidance of the Thai Junta, Thailand’s Supreme Court for politicians has set up a panel of judges to try Thaksin Shinawatra in absentia in the telecommunications excise tax conversion case, according to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
OAG deputy spokesman Trumph Jalichandra said on Friday that his office had earlier asked the court to try the former prime minister in absentia in two cases — the excise tax case and the Krungthai Bank lending case — after the law allowing the court to try politicians in absentia came into effect last year. The excise case trial would be the first under the new law.
In any case, Prayut Petchkhun, another OAG deputy spokesman, said his office was still working on an extradition attempt to bring Thaksin to justice. It is also seeking Thaksin’s sister Yingluck and hit-and-run suspect Vorayudh “Boss” Yoovidhaya. However, the OAG could only act after police inform them where they are, he added.
Pictures of a woman believed to be former premier Yingluck shopping in London emerged last week. Mr Vorayudh, another billionaire, has managed to avoid arrest for more than five years since his speeding Ferrari dragged a motorcycle ridden by a police officer to his death in Bangkok in September 2012.
Thaksin is now facing four cases filed between 2008 and 2012. The excise tax case and the Krungthai lending case were filed by the OAG, while cases involving Exim Bank lending and the online lottery were filed by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
Thaksin was convicted in 2008 for abuse of authority in a government sale of land on Ratchadaphisek Road. He fled abroad shortly before the court issued its ruling.
The telecoms excise tax case originated 15 years ago, when telecom companies operated under concessions from the government, through what are now state-owned TOT Plc and CAT Telecom Plc. The two state agencies collected their shares of revenue from the telecoms firms and remitted the revenue after expenses to the Finance Ministry.
In 2003, Thaksin, who made his fortune from the country’s largest mobile operator, issued an executive decree imposing a new telecoms excise tax. Essentially, it funneled a portion of the revenue telecom firms normally paid to TOT and CAT directly to the Finance Ministry.
The government explained the change was needed to prepare for the expiry of the concessions, when the state telecom firms could no longer rely on concession revenue.
TOT and CAT claimed the change would bankrupt them, while industry experts argued the tax would stifle competition because newcomers would find it hard to compete with existing players, which effectively did not have pay extra for the tax.
Supporters of the tax said it made no difference to the operators since they ended up paying the same amount, but to a different recipient. They argued that the Finance Ministry would get more revenue since there would be no expenses deducted.
In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions found Thaksin guilty in several cases and seized 46 billion baht of his assets. In the excise tax case, it said the imposition of the excise tax unfairly favored Shin Corp, the telecom giant Thaksin founded in 1983 and sold in early 2006.
To comply with the court ruling, which is considered final and binding on all agencies, the coup-installed government cut the telecom excise tax rate to zero, effectively reverting to the original system until almost all telecom concessions expired a few years ago, replaced by a licensing system.