Exiled ex-PM Thaksin pledges return to Thailand for driver’s funeral

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, exiled since 2008, today confirmed he is returning to Thailand next month. The 74 year old ex PM is returning to pay his respects to Wichai Changlek, Thaksin’s driver, who passed away at the age of 73. Thaksin wishes to return to attend the cremation ceremonies.

The family of Shinawatra, including his daughters Paetongtarn and Pinthongta, showed their presence at the funeral. Thaksin sent a wreath along with a message of condolence to the grieving family, asking that they delay the cremation process until he could be present in person to pay his last respects.

Having been removed from power due to a military coup in 2006, Thaksin has lived overseas since 2008 when he moved away from Thailand just before his sentencing for misuse of power. His desire to return to Thailand and face any legal repercussions has been expressed on numerous occasions in recent months.

Originally, it seemed his return was imminent, with plans being made for that purpose this week. However, this has now been postponed as Thaksin doesn’t wish to cause any distractions during this politically uncertain time.

Wichai, also referred to as “Loong (Uncle) Pok,” found himself garnering attention back in 2001 due to a case which looked into the non-disclosure of shares owned by Thaksin and his family. At a time when Thaksin was a prime minister-elect and the head of the since-dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) accused him of neglecting to announce assets worth approximately 2.37 billion baht.

The NACC found evidence suggesting that Thaksin had enlisted his household staff, which included Wichai, to be stand-in shareholders, and had transferred his holdings to these staff members to hide his ownership. Investigations revealed Wichai held shares in several companies owned by the Shinawatra family, with 346,500 shares in Shinawatra Computer and Communication and 24,988,986 shares in Alpine Golf and Sports Club.

Back in 2001, Wichai provided the Constitutional Court with the explanation that Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, Thaksin’s former spouse, requested his name be used as a shareholder without explaining her reasons.

A narrow ruling emerged from the court, with a vote of 8-7 determining that the wealthy prime minister had no intent of concealing his assets, and the mistake was perceived as “honest.” Thaksin was inaugurated as the prime minister that same year.

The bond between Wichai and Thaksin is well-documented, with Thaksin referring to Wichai in his 2022 autobiography, Thaksin Shinawatra Theory and Thought. In it, Wichai expressed a desire to show gratitude for Thaksin’s kindness, saying that reunification with his old boss would be the “happiest moment” of his life. A statement claiming that Wichai would readily accept his old job as Thaksin’s driver if he ever returned to Thailand was also included.

Politics NewsThailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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