Thai PM expected to keep post despite legal battle

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Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra attends the 20th ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, capital of Combodia, April 4, 2012. [Xinhua]

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra attends the 20th ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, capital of Combodia, April 4, 2012. [Xinhua]

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is likely to remain in power despite alledged charges of concealing assets.

An investigation into the allegation, which said Yingluck has falsified a personal wealth report with intent to conceal her 20 million baht (about 666,000 U.S. dollars) asset, is yet to get started by a subcommittee of the anti-graft agency.

Yingluck would not be legally obliged to stop performing as head of government even if she is formally charged by the NACC of allegedly doctoring her wealth report, according to the Puea Thai (For Thais) Party's MP Pichit Chuenban, who heads her legal team.

Mistakes found in the filing of personal wealth reports might only be considered as an inadvertent blunder. "Prime Minister Yingluck should not be stopped from performing her duties even if the NACC endorses the allegations for legal action," Pichit said. He said that Yingluck would lose her job only if the Supreme Court, and not the anti-graft agency, would issue a final ruling on the charges.

If found guilty as charged, a suspended prime minister would be

finally impeached and banned from politics for a five years, according to the Thai Constitution.

The lawmaker said that the suit against the prime minister is unlike other lawsuits lodged by the NACC against any politicians charged with corruption which will automatically result in immediate termination of the said politicians even if there is still no final ruling by the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the NACC subcommittee is yet to look back into the history of money transactions where Yingluck was said to have loaned to a little-known firm, Ad Index Co., owned in part by her husband, Anusorn Amornchat, several years ago.

In her wealth report submitted to the NACC last year,Yingluck claimed to have loaned 10 million baht (about 333,000 U.S. dollars) to her husband's firm. But the firm itself filed a different report by admitting to have borrowed 30 million baht(about one million U.S. dollars) from her.

Pichit maintained that Yingluck did not seem to know at the time of her providing the loan, no matter how much, to Anusorn's firm that she would ever enter politics let alone become prime minister which she had assumed four or five years later.Some rank and file members of the ruling Puea Thai Party were upset over the possibility that Yingluck might suffer the same fate as that of her brother, deposed Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who had allegedly concealed billions of dollars in assets by using relatives and associates as nominee holders of his corporate stocks and then had his wealth eventually frozen and confiscated by law.

Such concerns have prompted some Puea Thai MPs to say that the party must scout for someone who can replace Yingluck in case she would be suspended from acting as head of government.

"The judicial branch and such independent organizations as the NACC never seemed to rule in favor of members of the Shinawatra family as far as previous lawsuits lodged against them were concerned. So we should get ready for possible unpleasant outcome somehow," said a Puea Thai MP, who requested not to be named since he was not authorized to make any comment.Lately there have been speculations that Yaovapa Wongsawat,who is the spouse of former Premier Somchai Wongsawat and younger sister of Thaksin and elder sister of Yingluck, was being put on standby to replace the woman premier just in case.

For that reason, Yaovapa will contest a by-election under the ticket of the Puea Thai Party for MP of Chiang Mai province,the hometown of the Shinawatra family, in late April.

One needs to be an elected politician in order to be named prime minister, according to the Thai Constitution. But others argued that Yaovapa, a former legislator herself,merely intends to return to parliament where she would take charge of arranging legislative affairs of the government MPs because the current coalition whips have rarely managed to keep them under control.

"Given the fact that Yingluck is already preoccupied with the prime minister's job and Jarupong (Ruangsuwan) is just a nominal leader of the party, Yaovapa could do much to help with our legislative duties in parliament," said another Puea Thai lawmaker.

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