Monday, August 11, 2008

The two way mirror - was justice really being served?

"I personally guarantee that these investigations will not turn out to be a farce"

I forget where or when, but those were the words spoken by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin a few months after the last coup in Thailand.

At the time his words seemed plausible and almost convincing. Indeed, they were convincing all the way up until the Supreme Court's verdict against Potjamon Shiniwatra last week.

Because, until the astonishing moment that a person sentenced to three years imprisonment was allowed to leave the country the very next day, I think many people had truly begun to believe - or at least wanted to believe - that the legal system of Thailand was on its way to solving the turmoil that has engulfed the nation.

It all started when HM King Bhumipol told the courts of Thailand to "get us out of this mess". The courts wasted no time in taking up the task. They annulled the election that had been boycotted by all major opposition parties, they found the EC commissioners guilty of dereliction of duty, they dissolved Thai Rak Thai and absolved The Democrat party, they aided the appointment of senators and took appropriate actions against the Shinwatras following the investigations by the Assets Scrutiny Committee.

Each and every decision appeared to be the right and just one, however it was hard not to notice that the court's actions could - hypothetically - be seen in a different light. They appeared to fit perfectly in line with the strategy of an elite person - say, a senior statesman - engaged in a power struggle with Thaksin and his relatively young breed of politicos.

And while the people watched the stage show of the junta desperately trying to eliminate the memory of TRT only to see them re-emerge under the PPP banner, there occasionally emerged news from behind the curtain. Rumours of phone calls between Sonthi and Thaksin, a meeting between Potjamon and Prem or public suggestions by Jakrapob Penkair that he had "tape recordings" that implicated a senior statesmen reached the public just enough to let us know that, as always with politics, there was more than meets the eye.

Still though, the judiciary soldiered on (no pun intended) and handled various cases involving politicians and the "pastry gate" scandal amicably. In fact, the later case seemed to be handled with incredible quickness, almost as though someone wanted it to be forgotten. And as Thaksin made good his promise to return to Thailand after the elections, it seemed things would finally be resolved.

The court's decision not to allow Thaksin to leave before his first hearing was impressive, but after Potjamon was found guilty of tax evasion, she was sentenced to three years in jail - yet, amazingly, allowed to leave the country the next day.

The papers, public and media immediately speculated that exile was an option, but with Thaksin's numerous promises to face justice and his faith in the system, people were not sure. That is, they were not sure until yesterday, when the Shinwatras failed to return from Beijing.

Now I don't pretend to be a legal expert, so I would be most grateful if anyone can tell me - how many cases have there been in Thailand when a person sentenced to three years is released on bail and allowed to leave the nation?

I think this actions is wrong for many reasons. It's wrong because Thaksin Shinwat told his supporters ad nauseam that he would return and clear his name after elections in Thailand, now he has changed his tune. It's wrong because a person was allowed to leave the country under bail even when the general public knew what would happen. It's will be wrong if the UK allows Thaksin to stay in the country when and if he is found guilty of an offence that is also indictable in the UK.

It's wrong because Thaksin has used"threats against my life and my family" as an excuse, despite the fact he and his family posed for photographs outside Chulalongkorn University just weeks ago.

Most of all, it is wrong that a very, very convenient conclusion seems to have been reached despite the endless promises from General Sonthi and the legal system of Thailand that true justice would run its course, regardless of the cost.

The opening for the Shinwatras to take exile may be good for Thailand in the long run. It may be the greater good that was being served, but the rule of law has not been followed as far as I can tell.

This outcome fits far more comfortably with our hypothetical situation that the entire saga was not being followed under the rule of law, but rather by our imaginary elite statesman. Justice has not been served, but enemies have been exiled, money has been left untaken and stability has a chance to return.

Thaksin Shiniwatra has a great number of charges against him, I wonder if he will ever decide that he "has faith in the justice system" again.

We can only wonder what will happen now that Thaksin may be set to fail the "fit and proper person" test. The again, Abramovich passed it already.

But perhaps the biggest mystery to be solved is the one that perhaps has been asked in secret many times - what will happen to those frozen assets?

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