Thais to investigate source of Thaksin's mysterious funds


Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 20

Thailand will investigate the source of the "mystery" funds that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will use to buy Manchester City soccer club, the country's finance minister said yesterday.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup last September, made a ?81.6 million (US$162 million) bid to buy the club on Thursday and the English Premier League club recommended its shareholders accept Thaksin's bid.

But while he was prime minister, Thaksin was required by law to declare all his assets, and none of the declarations disclosed any foreign assets, Thai Finance Minister Chalongphob Sussangkarn said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia conference in Singapore.

"So this money which would be used for Manchester City is still a mystery to Thailand. So I cannot tell where the money will be coming from," he said.

"I am sure the Asset Examination Commission will look at the source of these funds and try to see whether they are legal funds that were taken out or by other means," he said. "If the deal goes ahead and the money is paid they will try to look at it. We don't know yet how he is going to finance it. We won't know until the deal is finalized."

Thaksin, a billionaire who made his fortune in telecommunications before serving as prime minister from 2001 to last year, lives in exile in London. He was charged last week in Thailand with corruption over a 2003 purchase of government-held Bangkok real estate. The first court hearing is expected on July 10.

Several other cases are pending against him, and corruption investigators have ordered more than 60 billion baht (US$1.8 billion) of Thaksin's wealth frozen on suspicion it was gained illicitly.

Thaksin has not said whether he will return to Thailand to face the trial.

Asked if Thailand can guarantee Thaksin's safety if he returns, Chalongphob said: "I am not in a position to say 100 percent but in terms of somebody high-profile like Thaksin, I am sure it would be very difficult to imagine anything happening to him."

Chalongphob noted that only the bank accounts of Thaksin have been frozen, and speculated that his family and friends may have shares that can be used to raise money for the Manchester City deal.

"The freezing of the bank accounts covers his children and relatives as well,'' he said. ``But it is difficult at this moment to trace the movements [of fund transfers]. There are different ways to set up hundreds of companies and finance them indirectly."

Chalongphob said even though Thailand has current account convertibility, transfer of large sums of money needs central bank approval. But "there may be some loophole that we don't know about."