By THE NATION
FUGITIVE FORMER prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has decided not to fight a legal battle regarding a telecoms concession case against him because he disagreed with a new law that allowed trials in absentia, one of his lawyers said yesterday.
Lawyer Veeparat Srichaiya said he had learned from a person close to Thaksin that the former prime minister disagreed with the legal amendment allowing cases against politicians to be tried in the absence of the defendants.
“That law has a retroactive effect, which is against international legal principles. We oppose all forms of injustice,” he said.
Thaksin’s lawyer added that his government’s policy, which converted fees for state telecommunications concessions into excise taxes for concessionaire telecom operators, did not cause damage to the state and the companies involved did not gain from the policy.
The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders on Tuesday started a trial in the case under a new law on criminal procedures relating to cases against politicians.
The new law allows trials in absentia against politicians that were suspended because the defendants fled the country.
Under the old law, legal cases against Thaksin were suspended pending his arrest, but under the new law passed last year, the court can try cases in the absence of fugitive politicians three months after an arrest warrant is issued following their escape.
Thaksin, 69, was sued by public prosecutors in 2008 on charges of malfeasance, dereliction of duty and violating the anti-corruption law. He fled the country in the same year and has since lived in self-imposed exile overseas.
His government’s decision to allow companies with telecoms concessions to pay excise taxes instead of concession fees had allegedly lost revenue of Bt66 billion for relevant state agencies.
The policy executed by Thaksin’s government also allegedly benefited his family business at that time, Shin Corp, one of the telecoms firms affected by the policy.
The court on Tuesday also issued an arrest warrant for Thaksin after neither he nor his lawyer was present in court and he did not appoint anyone to act on his behalf.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday said if Thaksin did not appoint a lawyer to fight the case, the court would have no choice but to continue the trial unilaterally.
“You can’t help it. The court adopts the inquisitorial system,” Wissanu said.
Thailand’s ordinary courts usually adopted the accusatorial system.
He added that the judges might sometimes cross-examine prosecution witnesses, but defence lawyers would certainly do it better in the defendant’s interest.
“It is best to appoint your own lawyer. At least he can observe the trial,” said Wissanu, who is in charge of the government’s legal affairs.