07/31/2008, 00.00
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Wife of former prime minister Thaksin sentenced for tax evasion

Three years in prison for dodging 16 million dollars in taxes, but outside the court, her husband's supporters offered her flowers. Her brother and secretary were also found guilty. It is the first serious sentence against the family of the former prime minister, who is also charged with corruption and abuse of power.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The wife of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was sentenced today to three years in prison for tax evasion amounting to 546 million baht (16.3 million dollars).

Pojaman Shinawatra listened to the severe verdict in silence. Her brother was also sentenced to three years, and her secretary to two. In order to remain free, the three paid bail of 5 million baht (149 million dollars) each. As she left the court, she was welcomed by more than a thousand of her husband's political supporters, with roses and placards expressing support. Her spokesman says she will appeal. The woman defended herself by saying that she bought the shares in question from one of her family's maids, and then transferred them to her brother as a gift, which is exempt from taxes according to Thai law. But the accusation says that the sum paid to the maid was later put in a bank account in Pojaman's name.

Thaksin has been charged together with his wife, their adopted son, and their secretary, for evading millions of dollars in taxes in 1997, through complicated transfers of shares in the family business.

The stiff ruling was made by the judge Pramote Pipatpramote, who says that "the three defendants have high economic and social status, and they should have aspired to set an example for society. But, they were working together to avoid taxes, even though the taxes amounted to little compared to their assets".

Before the state coup that overthrow him in September of 2006, the former prime minister was considered the fourth richest man in Thailand, but now the judicial authorities have frozen his assets and those of his family, at about 2 billion dollars. He also faces serious charges of corruption and abuse of power. His party, Thai Rak Thai, was declared ilegal after the military coup, and he has been excluded from political activity for five years. After a period of voluntary exile, he returned to Thailand at the beginning of 2008, following the electoral victory of the People's Power Party, considered his political ally.

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