Deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will not return to Bangkok to face corruption charges this week as ordered by police because he fears for his safety, his lawyer said yesterday.
Thai officials said they will issue an arrest warrant for Thaksin if he does not have a valid reason for failing to appear in person by Friday to hear the charges against him.
He is accused of concealing ownership of millions of dollars in shares from the Thai stock exchange.
"He will not return to answer the charges because of safety concerns and other reasons," said Noppadol Pattama, Thaksin's lawyer and de facto spokesman in Thailand.
Thaksin was ousted while abroad, and has divided his time since then between a residence in London and travel around Asia.
Noppadol said Thaksin would not return until after an election expected to be held in December because "the country is under the rule of the military who got power in an undemocratic way" and the investigations targeting him are unfair.
The military deposed Thaksin in a bloodless coup on Sept. 19 last year after protests accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.
One of the coup leaders' first acts was to initiate probes against Thaksin.
Personal security was another of Thaksin's concerns, Noppadol said. The military has repeatedly warned Thaksin that he should not return until after the polls, saying his presence could trigger political instability.
Earlier this month, the army commander who led the coup, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said Thaksin might be harmed by his enemies if he returned to Thailand now.
But Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont told reporters that the government would ensure Thaksin's safety if he returned.
"He will not return to the country even though the prime minister guarantees his safety because even Surayud is unable to guarantee the safety of people in the three southern provinces," Noppadol said, in an indirect criticism of the government for its failure to end a Muslim insurgency there.
The legal process against Thaksin will proceed regardless of whether he returns, said Sunai Manomaiudom, director-general of Thailand's Department of Special Investigation.
"If Thaksin demonstrates evasive behavior, we will have to issue an arrest warrant," he said.
When the case is forwarded to state prosecutors, they can seek his extradition.
Thaksin and his wife, Pojamarn, have been charged with violating regulations requiring disclosure of corporate information to the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
Sunai said the couple and other family members controlled nearly 80 percent of SC Asset, both directly and through nominee companies, and sold their interests to outside parties last year.
They are charged with violating disclosure rules both by failing to report their ownership and by failing to report the sale of shares.
Each violation of the exchange's regulations carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of US$15,500.