The deposed prime minister of Thailand, Manchester City's chairman Thaksin Shinawatra, yesterday returned home after 17 months of exile, promising both to clear his name – and transform his club into the next Manchester United.
The 58-year-old returned to a rapturous welcome from supporters and senior politicians in Bangkok, where he hopes to recover hundreds of millions of pounds of frozen assets that could drastically improve his club's buying power.
He was immediately taken into custody but was later released on bail and checked into a luxury suite at perhaps the city's most famous hotel. Later he said he wanted to transform City and develop what he described as a network of the club's training and recruitment academies across Asia.
"There will be Man City China, Man City Japan, Man City US. In the next season, Man City will be another Man United," he told reporters at the Peninsula Hotel, where his room, complete with a private gym and butler's quarters, costs around £1,650 a night. "I don't want to be involved in politics any longer. I want to live peacefully with my family and die in this motherland. I have to come back to restore my reputation and fight for justice in court."
Thaksin, who flew in with two City players, Kaspar Schmeichel and Kelvin Etuhu, was ousted by a military coup in September 2006 amid mounting allegations of corruption directed at both him and his wife, Pojaman. The couple now have to answer charges of corruption and concealing their assets that carry up to 30 years in jail.
In addition to clearing his name, Thaksin will also attempt to have released up to £800m of assets that were frozen after the coup. He will make his appeal to the Asset Examination Committee, established by the military junta.
A source who was with Thaksin in Hong Kong before they left for Bangkok, told The Independent there was hope the assets might be unfrozen in time for the summer transfer window. "We don't want to give false hope that £400m is about to come to the football club and it's difficult to say what might be on the way [as] we've not been given any promises," the source said. "This is just the start of a process which may take weeks. He has made it clear that if he is vindicated and his assets are unfrozen that he is prepared to continue to support the football club and ratchet up [his financial commitment] as well."
Sources at the club are acutely aware that talk about Thaksin's millions – his personal wealth has been put at £1.5bn – has created false hope before. Though £10m was spent in the January transfer window – on Nery Castillo, Benjani Mwaruwari and Felipe Caciedo – the club are perceived to have spent less than expected, though more than City have spent in such circumstances for years.
The return of Thaksin has been made possible by a recent election victory by a colleague of the former prime minister. The newly elected prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, who heads the PPP party, won widespread support by campaigning as Thaksin's proxy and promising to clear his name.
The corruption charges faced by Thaksin and his wife relate to a land deal she made to buy a one-acre plot of land in the centre of Bangkok from the Financial Institutions Development Fund, a government agency that was established to help debt-ridden banks. The prime minister's wife paid $26m [£13m] for the land, which was reportedly worth three times that amount. Thai law prohibits prime ministers or their spouses from doing business with government agencies. Thaksin's wife returned to Thailand last month and was released on bail, though is unable to leave the country.
Thaksin, who made his wealth principally in the telecommunications industry, has said he has no intention of returning to front-line politics in Thailand, though he said he might serve as an adviser to the PPP, which leads a six-party coalition after the election victory on 23 December. The military has since returned to its barracks.Reuse content