Former Thai prime minster denies corruption charges
(dpa) - Thailand's coup-ousted premier Thaksin Shinawata on Wednesday denied charges that he abused his powers five years ago by allowing his wife to bid for a plot of land in Bangkok at a government auction.
The Supreme Court for Political Offences heard Thaksin's denial and then set the next trial date for April 29 to 30, to hear witnesses in the case against Thaksin and his wife Potjaman.
Hundreds of supporters had gathered outside the courtroom to cheer on Thaksin, who was ousted by a coup d'etat on September 19, 2006, on charges of corruption, dividing the nation and undermining democracy and the monarchy, lived in self-exile for 17 months before returning on February 28 to face an abuse-of-power case at the Supreme Court.
"Prime Minister Thaksin," the crowd shouted as Thaksin left the court.
Thaksin stands accused of abusing his position as prime minister in 2003 by allowing his wife to make a 772 million baht (24.5 million dollar) bid for a plot of land in a government auction.
Despite facing numerous corruption charges, Thaksin remains tremendously popular in Thailand, particularly among the poor who benefitted most from his populist policies.
"I love Thaksin," said Rotchama Saengnuan, 53, one of the supporters who gathered outside the court to glimpse Thaksin. "When he was prime minister it was easy for the poor to get government loans."
Chalorm Thamah, 60, a food vendor, had similar praise for the deposed premier. "During Thaksin's time the economy was good and it was easy to sell food. After the coup everything slowed down. I want Thaksin to re-enter politics."
Since his return, Thaksin has said repeatedly that he will avoid Thai politics and concentrate on clearing his name in court.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted Thaksin permission to go abroad following his court appearance Wednesday, although he must return to Thailand by April 10.
Thaksin had requested court permission to go to London to tend to business involving his Manchester City football team, which he purchased while in self-exile last year.
Thaksin's two-term premiership between 2001 to 2006 was unique in Thailand's long history of money-politics.
A billionaire telecommunications tycoon, Thaksin introduced populist policies to win votes rather than simply paying for them, and consequently won an unprecedented parliamentary majority that allowed him to monopolize Thai politics like no other premier before him.
Abuses of power, particularly the 2-billion-dollar tax-free sale of his Shin Corp empire in January 2006, eventually turned the Bangkok-based middle class and political elite against him, leading to his overthrow on September 19.