BANGKOK (AP) — State prosecutors in Thailand said Tuesday they have revived an investigation into whether former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra almost nine years ago violated the law against defaming the monarch, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Thaksin had been charged in 2016 with violating the law on royal defamation — also known as Article 112 — for remarks he made to journalists the previous year when he was in Seoul, South Korea, said Prayut Phetcharakun, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, at a news conference.
Thaksin, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup, is currently confined to a police hospital in Bangkok where he is serving time for convictions related to corruption and abuse of power. He had been in self-imposed exile since 2008, but voluntarily returned to Thailand in August last year to begin serving an eight-year prison sentence.
He was moved almost immediately to the hospital on grounds of ill health and about a week after that, King Maha Vajiralongkorn reduced his sentence to a single year. The reduction made Thaksin, now 74, eligible to apply for parole after serving at least one-third — four months — of his amended sentence, and could be released later this month.
The decision to indict Thaksin was made in 2016, but further legal moves were suspended until he could respond to the charges, which he did when the authorities notified him of them in the hospital on Jan. 17, according to Prayut. Thaksin denied any wrongdoing and submitted a letter rebutting the charge, which was added to his case file to be used in deciding whether or not to proceed with prosecuting him, Prayut said.
The announcement from the attorney-general’s office means that if Thaksin gets early release, as is widely expected, he can immediately be taken back into custody on the royal defamation charge.
Thaksin’s return to Thailand last year came the same day that the Pheu Thai party — the latest incarnation of the party that he originally led to power in 2001, and for which he is considered the de facto leader — won a parliamentary vote to form a new government.
The previous government was heavily influenced by the military, which continued its hostility toward Thaksin and his allies long after ousting him in 2006. Thaksin’s critics have questioned whether his shift from prison to more congenial surroundings in the hospital reflected special privilege as part of a political deal between his supporters and opponents.
Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 by promoting populist policies and using his telecommunications fortune to build his own political party, and was easily reelected in 2005.
Thailand’s traditional royalist ruling class felt threatened by Thaksin’s popularity. His ouster set off years of sometimes violent confrontations between his supporters and opponents. Political parties with his backing continued to win elections but were forced from power several times by the courts and the army, both bulwarks of royalism.