Thai court acquits Thaksin’s son in illegal loan scandal

BANGKOK — A court in Thailand on Monday acquitted the son of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of money laundering in a case involving $328 million in loans extended by a state-run bank to a real estate developer when his father held power.

The Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases ruled that Panthongtae Shinawatra was not guilty in the case involving loans extended in 2003 and 2004 by Krungthai Bank to the Krisdamahanakorn company and its subsidiaries.

Panthongtae had said a 10 million baht ($331,000) check he received from the son of the real estate company owner was meant for an unrelated business venture, and had been returned when he scuttled the proposed investment.

Thaksin, ousted from power by a 2006 military coup, was acquitted in the case this year. He fled into exile in 2008 to escape serving a prison term for a conflict of interest conviction and has since been the target of other legal proceedings that he has said are politically motivated.

About two dozen bank and company executives received prison terms in 2015 because the bank’s loans were illegal. Krisdamahanakorn had been in a state of receivership at the time because of an excess of nonperforming loans, making it ineligible for such new lending.

The court on Monday said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Panthongthae knew the source of the possibly tainted money, adding that 10 million baht ($331,000) represented less than 1% of his net worth of more than 4,000 million baht ($13.2 million).

It said that the public prosecutor had only proved that Panthongtae is Thaksin’s son and was very close to Krisdamahanakorn’s owner, Wichai Krisdathanon, who had signed the check to him.

Since Thaksin was ousted in 2006, there has been a sometimes violent struggle for power between his supporters and his opponents, who accused the populist billionaire of abuse of power and corruption. His supporters say the traditional Thai establishment feared losing power because of his popularity, and the courts have played a major effort in trying to destroy his political machine.

The Thaksin-affiliated Pheu Thai party won the greatest number of lower house seats in this year’s general election but came in second to the military-backed Palang Pracharath party, which topped the popular vote and formed a coalition government. Critics charged that Thaksin’s side was handicapped by laws instituted by the junta that ruled the country after a 2014 coup against a government that had been formed by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

The Associated Press