Two corruption cases haunt Thai leader

By Richard S. Ehrlich, The Washington Times

BANGKOK | Two corruption cases threaten to unseat Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, dissolve his political party and hobble the bickering coalition that administers Thailand’s military-backed government.

Prosecutors in the office of the attorney general have presented charges to the Constitutional Court accusing Mr. Abhisit’s Democrat Party of receiving illegal donations worth more than $8 million from a major cement petrochemical company, TPI Polene, in 2005.

In a separate case, prosecutors accuse the Democrat Party of misusing a $900,000 grant in 2005 from the Election Commission’s political development fund.

If the Constitutional Court returns a guilty verdict in either case, the party could be disbanded and its leaders — including Mr. Abhisit — could be ousted and banned from holding public office for five years.

“We will respect and follow the decision of the court,” the soft-spoken prime minister said.

However, Mr. Abhisit and Democrat Party leaders reportedly are looking for a loophole that would allow them, if convicted, to remain in power under the guise of a new political party.

The Political Party Act of 1998 calls for the liquidation of political organizations found guilty of corruption, including accepting illegal donations and misusing public funds. In 2007, the punishment was expanded to include banning top party officials from holding public office for five years.

Democrat Party officials are expected to argue that any violations they may have committed in 2005 should not be subject to the increased punishments, which came into effect two years later.

If the party is convicted and dissolved under the 1998 version of the act, Mr. Abhisit and his top executives could jump to a new political party to try to stay in power. Parliamentarians then could make deals to unite the coalition behind the new party and even keep Mr. Abhisit as prime minister.

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