BANGKOK (AFP): Thailand’s Constitutional Court opens a hearing this week into corruption charges against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that threaten to cut short his political career. Thaksin won the January national elections despite having just been indicted for deliberately concealing some of his assets while deputy prime minister in 1997. The billionaire businessman faces a five-year ban from politics if the Constitutional Court upholds the findings of the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC). Thai commentators are split over whether the Constitutional Court will rule according to the letter of the law or will bow to public opinion. While some are convinced of the professionalism of the young, internationally trained justices, others believe they will be naturally reluctant to kick out such a popular prime minister. The NCCC’s indictment is reported to focus on the prime minister’s motives for failing to fully disclose his assets, and for transferring large quantities of corporate stock to his household servants. Thaksin claims that he merely forgot a small part of his vast fortune, and that his secretaries misunderstood the forms for the asset declaration. The case has received little attention since the election. Instead, the media has been captivated with a budding scandal over the mysterious fortune left by former coup leader general Sunthorn Kongsompong who was reportedly close to Thaksin. The prime minister has been criticised for his reluctance to launch an investigation into Sunthorn’s vast estate, and has faced allegations that his telecoms empire was built partly under the patronage of the ex-junta leader. The case, which has seen photographs of an apparently chummy Thaksin and Sunthorn splashed across the front pages, has once more illustrated the susceptibility to scandal that has proved to be the premier’s Achilles heel.
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