Thailand’s new prime minister fails to win pardon for fugitive brother

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BANGKOK — The country’s new prime minister apparently failed in her first attempt to win a pardon for her fugitive brother, after his political opponents threatened legal action and demonstrations if his name appeared on a list of criminals eligible for a royal amnesty.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra reportedly sought a pardon for her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 2006 and convicted on corruption charges in 2008. Thaksin fled the country to avoid a two-year prison sentence.

Mrs. Yingluck's government included Thaksin’s name on a secret list of 26,000 criminals eligible for pardons from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, according to news reports. The king is expected to consider clemency for the convicts to mark his 84th birthday on Dec. 5.

The royal pardon is an annual tradition, but the Justice Ministry usually does not include fugitives on a list of criminals it presents to the king because those eligible for amnesty must have served some of their prison terms.

After reports appeared of Thaksin’s possible pardon, the Justice Ministry denied that it included him on the list.

Thaksin will not receive any benefit from the [royal] decree, and his name will not be included on the list of convicts eligible for a royal pardon,” Justice Minister Pracha Promnok said on Sunday. “Convicts on the run will not be eligible.”

However, Mr. Pracha appeared to confirm the existence of an earlier pardon list when he mentioned that a “new draft” would not benefit Thaksin.

“Those who are eligible for a royal pardon must have served [a portion of] their jail terms first,” he told the Nation newspaper.

Thaksin, 62, disputes his conviction and sentence.

His supporters have suggested that he could meet the requirement of serving some time in confinement by surrendering to friendly police officers who would detain him for a few minutes and then release him.

Behind closed doors on Nov. 15, the Cabinet approved the list of 26,000 names that reportedly included Thaksin. His political opponents objected to his inclusion on the list and threatened legal challenges and organized street demonstrations.

About 1,000 protesters gathered in central Bangkok on Nov. 18 to demand that Thaksin’s name be deleted from the pardon list.

After the outcry, Thaksin publicly dissociated himself with efforts to gain a pardon.

“I trust in the principle that the government will not do anything that will benefit me or any individual specifically,” Thaksin said Sunday in a letter distributed by his supporters.

“I am ready to sacrifice my own happiness, even though I have not received justice for over five years. For the people, I will be patient.”

His sister, Ms. Yingluck, is basking in Washington’s public support, which was highlighted during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Bangkok last week.

“We believe it is in the national security and political interest of the United States to have this government succeed, and we will do what we can to support that going forward,” a senior State Department official told journalists in Bangkok.

Amnesty and impunity against prosecution are common for politicians, security forces and other power brokers in Thailand.

Last year, 91 people were killed in Bangkok when Thailand’s military clashed with Thaksin’s supporter, called Red Shirts, who demanded that he be allowed to come home as a free man.

While crushing the protests, the former military-backed government declared a “state of emergency” that gave officials and the armed forces immunity against prosecution for their actions.

After the bloodshed, Thaksin endorsed his politically inexperienced sister, enabling her to win a July election. His supporters expected his sister to arrange for his return.

In 2006, military opponents toppled Thaksin and his elected government. They then helped rewrite the constitution, granted themselves immunity against prosecution for the coup and arranged for Thaksin’s trial.

In 2008, he was convicted for a conflict of interest in a 2003 real estate deal involving his ex-wife and government-owned property in Bangkok while he was prime minister.

On the run, but based mostly in Dubai, Thaksin later acquired a passport from Montenegro, apparently to help him avoid arrest and extradition while he traveled abroad making political statements to support the Red Shirts and Ms. Yingluck’s new government.

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