By WASAMON AUDJARINT,
AFTER MONTHS of a cat and mouse game with fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the junta appears to have become disheartened in bringing her back for prosecution despite knowing she is now in London.
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday admitted that the extradition process was “generally uneasy”.
“Could we even get the other ex-PM back? Did they send him back?” Prayut said, apparently referring to Yingluck’s fugitive brother ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been on the run abroad since 2008.
“Please don’t make this a domestic issue,” Prayut said. “Everyone, including me, expects [Yingluck] to return but this also depends on the foreign countries involved and we have no control over that.
“The police will proceed once all the evidence and verifications are received,” he said. “We have to take this one step at a time. We’re not negligent towards anyone.”
Despite Thailand having a 1912 extradition treaty in place with the UK, authorities have yet to formally request that Yingluck be sent back because they have said they were unable to identify her whereabouts since she initially stopped in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Police said she left Dubai, where she stayed after fleeing Thailand via Cambodia in August, and then went to the UK in September but no official update had been given until yesterday.
The prime minister yesterday reluctantly admitted his government knew of Yingluck’s whereabouts after learning that his foreign minister had already reported that she was now in London.
Prayut yesterday told Government House reporters that he had not received any official report on her whereabouts. However, when a reporter informed him that Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai had earlier yesterday said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had told him in September that Yingluck was in London, the PM responded that the matter would be dealt with in according with the relevant legal process.
The prime minister also said that he had not given any special instruction to the relevant state agencies regarding the matter.
“I will not make any specific order on this case,” he said. “Everything has its own process. We can’t just do anything on our own accord. You can’t expect to me enforce laws to get [Yingluck] returned as they can’t be applied in foreign countries,” he said.
Don told reporters yesterday that Thai authorities were in touch with their British counterparts in an attempt to locate Yingluck after having learned that she was in London.
He said his ministry would cooperate with the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office now that Yingluck’s whereabouts had been confirmed. “We have communicated consistently but we have not found her,” he said.
It was the first admission from the ministry that Yingluck was in Britain, where her brother Thaksin runs a business and owns a residence.
In October, police cited Dubai authorities saying Yingluck had left UAE on September 11 and then travelled to the UK. There were no further significant updates until photos of Yingluck in London and Oxford appeared in the media last week.
Don yesterday declined to say whether Thailand would issue any objection to the British government if Yingluck applied for asylum there. “It is not the Foreign Ministry’s duty to answer that question,” he said.
He pointed out that all of Yingluck’s Thai travel documents had been revoked, so she must have entered Britain with a passport issued by another country. He added that Yingluck’s presence in Britain should not affect Thailand-UK relations.
Public prosecutors have yet to request Yingluck’s extradition from any country, Amnart Chotchai, director general of the Attorney-General’s Office’s International Affairs Department, said yesterday. He added that the agency needed to gather sufficient and correct information before submitting a request.
“We have to make sure our information is clear and legal, or the requested country may turn us down because we don’t meet their conditions,” Amnart said.
He added that Thailand has had a good record regarding extraditions, earning much credibility from the United States and European countries.
Amnart said public prosecutors had made requests for Thaksin’s extradition with about 10 European and Asian countries since he fled the country in 2008. However, he said they failed to get him because Thaksin had often left those countries before their extradition requests were served.
“Thaksin has his own jet plane so he can travel quickly,” the prosecutor said.
Thai police have asked Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation, to issue an arrest warrant for Yingluck, Pol Colonel Surapan Thaiprasert, deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police’s Foreign Affairs Division, said yesterday.
He said that Interpol had asked for additional evidence from Thai authorities before the requested “red notice” for Yingluck’s arrest could be issued. Interpol asked for the verdict of the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders in the negligence case against Yingluck. A copy of the court ruling has been sent to Interpol.
Royal Thai Police deputy spokesman Pol Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen said yesterday that Thai police would seek assistance from their British counterparts to locate Yingluck.
He said the Thai police had used “all the existing channels” to track down the fugitive ex-PM, adding that they have made frequent contacts with Interpol units in different countries.
In a related development, Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat yesterday asked the government to explain to the public why authorities had been unable to bring Yingluck back for prosecution in Thailand.
The politician said that he believed Yingluck had already been granted political asylum because she did not seem to be worried about appearing publicly.
“Her arrest will be difficult if she already gets asylum status,” he said.