Published on August 19, 2007
Pojaman's future has been shrouded with uncertainty since the warrants were issued. Thaksin's wife, who had kept a relatively low profile in Thailand in the wake of the September 19 coup, could add to the United Kingdom's headaches if she decided not to return home to face the charges. But as far as the British government is concerned, Thaksin alone is enough to create a foreign-relations nightmare.
Extradition has proven to be a lengthy and complicated process even with far less controversial characters. Adding the facts that Thaksin was a democratically elected leader overthrown by a military coup and the subtlety of the UK's extradition criteria, we can expect an extraordinary global drama. With his acquisition of Manchester City Football Club, Thaksin has become an international political star.
Observers believe it will be difficult for Thai authorities to overcome the curse of the coup, which could serve as the biggest determining factor for London. One strategy for the Thai government is to point out that the Ratchadaphisek land deal was in blatant violation of pre-coup rules and laws. The Thai side is adamant that there is firm evidence that Thaksin and his wife breached the 1999 Anti-Corruption Act, as well as a few other laws.
Then again, remaining obstacles are the origin of the junta-installed Assets Examination Committee, which investigated the scandal, and the question whether such a case would be a serious criminal offence under British law.
Thaksin will surely raise concerns for his personal safety, the unfairness of the investigation and the "illegitimate" overthrow of his government to resist extradition. The "safety" claim may be the weakest of his arguments, but the questions of the probe's fairness and the coup could be strong arguments. But, as with the Thai political crisis, the extradition showdown will contain more than just one simple moral dimension. The UK will be in for some very tough soul-searching if it has to finally decide whether to send Thaksin back.
To a large extent, it will face the same dilemma that rocked the Kingdom over the past few years if Bangkok initiates an extradition request early. Thai prosecutors are worried that the malfeasance alleged in the Ratchadaphisek land scandal might not provide enough grounds - legally, as far as British justice is concerned - for the UK to send him back. And the Thai authorities are not certain at all that moral arguments would have any weight on London's decision process. But the Thaksin divide - legality versus morality - could hit the British political, media and even sports scenes if he does not decide to go somewhere else. To add to that, Manchester City FC may have a Temasek-type entanglement to worry about. With a political and business mess in Thailand remaining unsolved, the UK will be wary of the consequences of its own decision.
London had been privately praying that Thaksin would not initiate an exile request. But a nightmare of being caught in the middle is looming. However, one option is to try to buy time, by waiting for a new "democratic" Thai government and hoping Thaksin will keep his promise to return voluntarily when he feels assured that he would get a fair trial. But things are and will be highly unpredictable. For example, if junta leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin becomes a member of the post-election Cabinet, Thaksin will have fresh "justification" to seek a longer period in exile. Or when push comes to shove, Thaksin can easily go back to his initial argument that the "summary" probe against him was illegitimate. The likely tug-of-war could leave a bad taste in the mouths of both countries. Judging Thaksin always ends up in a Catch-22 situation or, if one does manage to make a decision, as the Thai Constitution Court did in 2001, it generates long-lasting repercussions beyond the imagination.