Body to seize corruption in Thai gov't

(Thai Coup)
Updated: 2006-09-25 09:01
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BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's new military rulers strengthened efforts to expose corruption in the government it overthrew, setting up a new anti-graft body with the power to seize assets of guilty politicians and their families.

The nine-member committee announced Sunday will investigate alleged wrongdoing in the administration of ousted Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra, who is suspected to have transferred some of his wealth abroad before the September 19 coup.

"There is a sufficient evidence to believe that (members of the former government) abused their power to reap benefits for their personal gain, and caused serious damage to the country," the military said in a late-night television announcement interrupting regular programming.

If there is sufficient evidence to prove wealth has been acquired illegally, the committee has the power to freeze or confiscate assets of the politician, his or her spouse, and children.

The committee, which has one year to complete its work, also shall forward cases to the Attorney General for prosecution, it said.

The military council, called the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy, has already revived the state National Counter Corruption Commission to probe corruption in the Thaksin government.

The NCCC, however, can only seek to prosecute cases through the courts, and cannot seize assets or otherwise enforce its findings. It is to hold its first meeting on Monday.

The military has cited corruption as one of the reasons for its bloodless coup. It also charged that Thaksin had insulted the country's revered monarchy and interfered with independent state bodies.

The former prime minister's family was one of the wealthiest in Southeast Asia even before he came into office in 2001.

Calls for his resignation grew, however, after he sold the centerpiece of his business empire - telecoms giant Shin Corp. - to Singapore's state investment company, Temasek Holdings, for a tax-free 73.3 billion baht (US$1.9 billion; euro1.55 billion).

Speculation rose Sunday over whether Thaksin may have transferred his wealth abroad before being deposed.

Airline officials said that Thaksin might have spirited some of his assets out of the country in the days before the coup. They said two planes chartered by Thaksin carried an unusually large amount of luggage - over 100 cases and trunks.

Although the coup met with no resistance and was generally welcomed by the Thai people, the military Sunday ordered "all organizations to stop their activities and political gatherings until the situation returns to normal." The order was taken after the military heard of politicians meeting to criticize the coup.

But under pressure from critics at home and abroad to restore democracy in the Southeast Asian country, it also said an interim civilian government may be announced in the next week.

Thaksin was in New York when the coup - Thailand's first in 15 years - was carried out, and is now in London.