Thaksin's Man City deal will be probed

UPDATED: 15:51, June 25, 2007

Thailand will investigate the source of the funds that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will use to buy Britain's Manchester City soccer club, the Thai finance minister said yesterday.

Thaksin, ousted in a coup in September, has made an 81.6 million pound ($162 million) bid for the English Premier League club. Manchester City on Thursday recommended to its shareholders accept.

Thaksin, a billionaire who made his fortune in telecommunications before serving as prime minister in 2001-06, lives in exile in London.

Prosecutors last week charged him and his wife with conflict of interest and malfeasance in a 2003 purchase of government-held prime Bangkok real estate. More than a billion dollars of his money has been frozen in Thailand.

When Thaksin was prime minister and was required by law to declare all his wealth, none of the declarations disclosed any foreign assets, said Thai Finance Minister Chalongphob Sussangkarn.

"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 told reporters in Singapore on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

"If the deal goes ahead and the money is paid, they (investigators) will try to look at it," he said. "We don't know yet how he is going to finance it. We won't know until the deal is finalized."

Several cases are pending against Thaksin in Thailand, where corruption investigators have ordered more than 60 billion baht ($1.8 billion) of his wealth frozen on suspicion it was gained illicitly.

Thaksin has not said whether he will return to face the trial. The first court hearing is expected on July 10.

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."

"So they (the government) will, I am sure, do their best to ensure nothing will happen," he said.

He noted that only Thaksin's bank accounts 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. But it is difficult at this moment to trace the movements (of fund transfers)," he said. "There are different ways to set up hundreds of companies and finance them indirectly."

A spokesman for Thaksin said on Friday that he would use his family's money to buy the club and that the money was legitimate.

Chalongphob added that Thailand could seek the extradition of Thaksin if he were to be found guilty of criminal offenses. "If Thaksin were to be found guilty under criminal law, we have some agreements with other countries on extraditing," he said.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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