Thaksin searches for bolthole after UK withdraws visa

Former Thai PM and Manchester City owner set to be international outcast as Britain turns him away

By Andrew Buncombe,Asia Correspondent
Sunday 09 November 2008 01:00

Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand and the man who sold Manchester City football club to its new billionaire Arab owners, was last night scouring the world for a refuge after Britain revoked his visa.

The Home Office told officials in Bangkok that it had taken the decision to withdraw the visas of Mr Thaksin and his wife, apparently after he was found guilty by a Thai court of misusing his position while Prime Minister. His conviction in absentia is just the latest twist in the turbulent career of the flamboyant politician, who was ousted by a bloodless military coup in 2006.

In exile, he spent much of his time in the UK, where he applied for asylum, snapped up a house in Surrey and bought himself a football team. But now, facing jail if he returns to Thailand and unable to enter Britain, Mr Thaksin is in need of another home. Reports last night suggested that he was travelling between China and the Philippines. The billionaire telecommunications magnate also spends a lot of time in Hong Kong. It was by telephone from Hong Kong that he recently addressed a rally of his political supporters in Thailand. "Nobody can bring me home except Their Majesties' graciousness or the will of the people," he said.

Mr Thaksin was popular with poor, rural Thais, who felt that he gave them a voice for the first time.

News of the decision to bar Mr Thaksin from entering Britain emerged after the British embassy in Bangkok sent an email to all airlines in Thailand, advising them against carrying the former prime minister or his wife, Potjaman. The Home Office declined to comment publicly on the decision, but a spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry told Reuters that it had confirmed with the British authorities that the visas have been revoked.

Just three weeks ago, Mr Thaksin was sentenced to two years in prison for breaking a conflict of interest law, after he involved himself in a government agency's sale of a piece of land to his wife. While his wife was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case, she had been convicted of tax evasion earlier this year and sentenced to three years. Neither was in Thailand when the former prime minister was sentenced, having both skipped bail in August and fled to the UK.

Mr Thaksin has insisted that the charge against him, and an additional series of corruption allegations, were politically motivated and led by "privileged elites who believe in anything but democracy". Since then, Thai prosecutors have issued numerous arrest warrants and urged Britain to extradite him.

The public campaign against Mr Thaksin in Thailand has been led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, an unelected and anti-democratic group of royalists, academics and former army officers, who wish to change the political system and reduce the number of elected MPs. Since August, the alliance has occupied the official compound of the Prime Minister's office. On one occasion when demonstrators gathered outside the parliament, the current PM, Somchai Wongsawat, who is Mr Thaksin's brother-in-law, was forced to scale a fence and escape in a helicopter to avoid the crowds.

Elections last December resulted in Mr Thaksin's People's Power Party securing a convincing victory and led to his ally and friend, Samak Sundaravej, becoming Prime Minister. However, Mr Samak was forced to stand down in September after a court ruled that the former TV chef had breached the constitution by appearing on a cookery programme during his time in office.

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