Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, set for parole on Feb 18, faces a shock lèse-majesté charge from 2016. OAG deliberates as uncertainty again shrouds Thaksin’s legal journey with police prosecuting two charges.
A decision on the parole release of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is imminent. The tentative release date is February 18th next. However, the former Prime Minister was hit with a bombshell on January 17th when informed of further criminal charges for lèse-majesté under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and an offence under the Computer Crime Act were being pursued by police. A crucial decision now rests with the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) on the matter. Significantly, the OAG has already applied to the Corrections Department to have Mr Thaskin’s incarceration extended beyond his parole date.
Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra is understood to be on the verge of release from prison. At the same time, his legal future has suddenly become more uncertain.
The kingdom’s best-known prisoner has been held at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok. He was transferred there on the night of his admission to prison.
This was on August 22 last, a historic day for Thailand. Not only did the country’s most controversial Prime Minister return from exile but his party was at the head of an unlikely coalition which elected Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin hours after his arrival.
Thaksin met by police on August 22nd 2023 after emerging from a private jet. A warrant for lèse-majesté was presented but dismissed afterwards as an error
When Thaksin touched down, he was met at the airport by police who presented him with warrants for his arrest. The well-known figure had just emerged from a private jet.
However, there was a surprise for the former premier, a sting in the tail.
A previously unknown lèse-majesté charge was included dating back to 2016.
At length, in the hours and days afterwards, this lèse-majesté charge was dismissed by associates of Thaksin as an aberration or error.
This was the case until January this year when Mr Thaksin was notified in hospital of new criminal charges. Firstly for lèse-majesté and secondly under the Computer Crime Act.
On January 17th, Mr Kunthanit Mongkolsawat, Director-General of the Investigation Office at the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) filed the case. Mr Thaksin was simultaneously informed of the allegations.
Lèse-majesté case and charges relate to an interview given by Thaksin to a daily newspaper in Seoul, South Korea on May 21 2015 about the 2014 coup d’état
In brief, in the 2016 lèse-majesté case, Mr Thaksin was accused of defaming the monarchy in comments made in Seoul in 2015. This was an interview given to the South Korean daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo on May 21 2015.
Significantly, despite being indicted in 2016, the present attorney-general has yet to decide on proceeding with formal charges.
With Mr Thaksin’s parole eligibility approaching, the Department of Corrections is hesitant to confirm his release on February 18th. This is the date now speculated upon. That decision will be finalised in days, it is understood
If paroled, it is suggested that police may question Mr Thaksin on the new charges. However, there is also the possibility that Mr Thaksin’s detention may be extended as a result.
Certainly, it is understood such a request has been made by the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG).
Deputy spokesman Nakhen Thongpraiwan, this week, confirmed the request. He said a reply from the Corrections Department is expected some 7 days before the ex-Premier’s tentative release.
All indications are that Thaksin will be paroled on February 18th but what is less clear is whether he will be released or detained again on new charges
The country’s Corrections Department director Sahakarn Phetnarin said on Tuesday that Thaksin meets parole criteria. However, the final decision rests with a parole committee.
Indeed, there is also a second criminal charge. In short, an offence under the Computer Crime Act 2017. In turn, this also relates to the Seoul media interview given by Mr Thaksin in 2015.
A spokesman for the Office of the Attorney-General, Prayut Phetcharakhun, gave some details. He revealed that the case landed at the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) from the Technology Crime Suppression Division on Feb 16, 2016.
Then-Attorney General Pongniwat Yuthapanboripan decided to indict Thaksin on Sept 19, 2016. However, Thaksin, a fugitive at the time, remained elusive until his return to Thailand on Aug 22, 2023.
Upon Thaksin’s return, police presented the arrest warrant to the Department of Corrections. They sought his detention if he was released.
Thaksin learned the charges were real in January. He denied them and immediately filed a petition himself with the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG)
Public prosecutors and police notified Thaksin of the lèse-majesté and computer crime charges on Jan 17, 2024. Thaksin denied the charges and filed a petition for fair treatment. The current attorney-general has yet to decide on the indictment.
OAG deputy spokesman Mr Nakhen further explained that while the Department of Corrections had not responded to the request for continued detention, police may decide on temporary release during questioning. Thaksin, however, has not yet faced interrogation in this case.
Corrections director-general Mr Sahakarn clarified Thaksin’s potential eligibility for parole was irrefutable.
He was an elderly, ill inmate who already served one-third of his term. While the department has prepared a list of parole-eligible inmates, Thaksin’s fate lies with a parole committee and then the justice minister.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Justice Thawee Sodsong echoed this. At the same time, he indicated that he expected the matter to come before him in the coming week.
Thaksin’s comments relate to the privy council and its alleged support for the 2014 coup d’état. It ousted the remnants of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government
In the 2015 interview in Seoul, Thaksin alleged privy councillors supported the 2014 coup d’état.
Police viewed his comments as a potential violation of lèse-majesté and computer crime laws.
The 2014 coup d’état was led by General Prayut Chan Ocha, the former Prime Minister. It ousted the remnants of the government formed by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2011.
Article 112 mandates 3-15 years’ imprisonment per offence. Thaksin’s return in 2023 led to an eight-year prison term, later reduced to one year through royal clemency.
The potential parole of Mr Thaksin on Feb 18, 2024, coming at the same time as police action on new charges, places uncertainty over Mr Thaksin’s future.
The Department of Corrections suspended his special sentence, pending ministerial approval by Feb 18. Director-General Sahakarn emphasised that freezing prisoners is standard procedure, unrelated to sentence suspension.
OAG must decide on how to treat the charges while the police may also have discretion in the matter
The attorney general’s spokesman, Mr Prayut, disclosed that the AG has three options: order further investigation, stand by the original indictment, or decide against charges.
However, the OAG deputy spokesman Mr Nakhen confirms it has not been confirmed that Thaksin will be arrested if paroled. Other arrangements may be made.
If granted parole, Thaksin could be questioned by police. Undoubtedly, his legal journey is now contingent on decisions by the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) and the police. Ultimately, perhaps a court will have to decide.
Presently, Thaksin’s name sits on the list of parole-eligible inmates. However, after that, the legal saga enveloping the fate of Thailand’s former prime minister becomes certainly more complex.