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Thaksin's asylum bid in jeopardy

China emerges as likely new home for former PM

The United Kingdom's visa ban on deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Pojaman has rocked their effort to seek political asylum overseas.

One day after the British government revoked their visas, questions emerged yesterday about the whereabouts of the fugitive couple and where they would head next to spend their self-imposed exile.

A mansion valued at Bt300 million is under construction in China with funding from Thaksin, according to a source from the ruling People Power Party with close connections to the ex-PM.

The source said it was likely that Thaksin would move into the new mansion if he could no longer stay in Britain. Thaksin and Pojaman were in the process of applying for political asylum in the UK.

The Bahamas, an archipelago country in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida, has also emerged as a likely new home for Thaksin and family. He and his wife have reportedly been granted honorary citizenship there.

Former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama, who once served as Thaksin's lawyer, said yesterday that he expected the ex-PM to live in an Asian country such as China. He said many countries were willing to grant Thaksin a visa.

"Thaksin is expected to pick a country that honours and welcomes him and from which he can travel independently," he said.

Pongthep Thepkanchana, Thak-sin's personal secretary, yesterday said he did not know the whereabouts of Thaksin.

Analysts say the revocation of the couple's visas is a big setback for any political comeback in Thailand. Thaksin was enthusiastic when more than 50,000 people showed up at a recent rally to show support for him.

Former envoy Kasit Piromya pointed out that the UK decision would restore the reputation of the Thai judicial system, which has been under  attack from the Western media. "It means that Britain respects the Thai courts' rulings, contrary to what Thak-sin has regularly alleged," Kasit said.

Throughout the court proceedings, Thaksin has alleged that the Thai judicial process has been tampered with and "politically motivated."

The 27-member European Union and the Commonwealth have to respond to the British action, Kasit said. What the UK has done, he pointed out, will impact on Asean if there is a decision by Commonwealth members Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, a public prosecutor expressed concern yesterday that the visa revocation would further complicate the efforts to have Thaksin extradited to Thailand.

Sirisak Tiyapan, director-general of the Foreign Affairs Department, said extradition could be proceeded on only if there was evidence that he had residence in the country the state was seeking his extradition from.

With Thaksin's visa revoked, the Royal Thai Police will have to ascertain his whereabouts. If Thaksin moves to a country which does not have an extradition treaty with Thailand, public prosecutors can still seek extradition on the reciprocity principle, meaning that if that country agrees to send Thaksin to Thailand, Thailand will honour any request from that country for extradition.

Public prosecutors have completed paperwork for Thaksin's extradition in English, and they are still waiting to see if Thaksin's lawyer will before November 20 appeal the Supreme Court ruling on the Ratchadaphisek land purchase, which sentenced Thaksin to two years in jail. If there is no appeal, the prosecutors could seek extradition immediately.

Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said the UK Embassy had confirmed the report and notified Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat about the matter.

Prime Minister Somchai Wong-sawat refused to comment.

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