Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Speculation rife on Thai asset flight

DID HE KNOW? Rumors that the Thai prime minister was sneaking money out of the country days before the coup fed speculation that he knew what was coming

AP , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may have whisked some of his assets out of the country aboard two aircraft days before a military coup ousted him from power, airline officials said yesterday.

An official from Thai Airways International, who demanded anonymity because company policy did not allow him to speak to the press, said he wanted the new ruling military council to investigate the incidents.

Speculation has been rife in Thailand that Thaksin may have sneaked money out of the country in the days leading up to the coup, but there has been no confirmation from the council.

Thaksin departed for Finland to begin a foreign tour on Sept. 9, loading up his government aircraft with 58 large suitcases and trunks, the official of the national carrier said.

The prime minister's aircraft, named Thai Koofah, was then inexplicably left parked in Finland for more than a week as Thaksin continued on his trip on other transportation.

A second aircraft carrying 56 suitcases -- an Airbus 340-600 -- was dispatched from Bangkok to meet up with the prime minister just days before the coup, the Thai Airways official said.

Another official in the airline industry, also requesting anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, confirmed the second flight saying it left on Sept. 17 -- two days before the military toppled Thaksin in a bloodless coup.

It was unclear why Thaksin needed a second aircraft when his own plane was already assigned to fly him to Europe and the US.

Speculation has surfaced about whether Thaksin knew of the coup in advance and moved some of his vast assets out of the country.

Thailand's new ruling military council says it will investigate the alleged wrongdoing under Thaksin's regime, which critics charge was riddled with massive corruption and abuse of power.

A spokeswoman for the airline said she was not aware of the incident "and even if it is true, Thai Airways would only report it to the [council], not to the media."

The Thai Airways official said it was not known what was taken aboard the second aircraft because only Thaksin's aides, citing security concerns, were allowed to supervise the loading.

"I want the [military] council to investigate this because we the employees of Thai Airways International believe that Thaksin exploited the company through his power as prime minister by using a company airplane to transport his assets out of the country," the official said.

Air Force spokesman Captain Pongsak Semachai said the Thai Koofar arrived back from Finland several days ago, declining to give the exact date.

Thaksin's family is among the wealthiest in Thailand, and in 2004 Forbes magazine ranked Thaksin as the 16th richest man in Southeast Asia.

Thaksin and one of his children have stayed in London since the coup, while his wife and two other children remain in Thailand.

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