BANGKOK: Thai police have charged former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with lese-majeste over comments he made almost a decade ago, officials said Tuesday, though it is not yet clear whether the case will go to court.
Thailand has some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws protecting King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family, with each charge bringing a potential 15-year prison sentence.
Controversial billionaire Thaksin, twice prime minister but ousted in a 2006 coup, returned from self-exile in August last year and was immediately jailed on old graft and abuse-of-power charges.
The 74-year-old was transferred to a police hospital almost straight away and has undergone at least two operations.
Prayuth Pecharakun, spokesman for the attorney-general’s office, told reporters police filed lese-majeste charges late last month against Thaksin, over comments he made in Seoul in 2015.
Prosecutors will wait for police to complete their investigation before deciding whether to proceed with the case against Thaksin, Prayuth said.
Thaksin denies the charge and has written to the attorney-general asking for fair treatment, Prayuth said.
Thaksin’s return to Thailand coincided with his Pheu Thai party’s return to power in a controversial deal with pro-military parties.
The timing triggered rumours of a backroom deal to help Thaksin, speculation fuelled further when the king cut his jail sentence from eight years to one year just days later.
Loved by millions of rural Thais for his populist policies in the early 2000s, Thaksin is reviled by the country’s royalist and pro-military establishment, which spent much of the past two decades trying to keep him and his allies out of power.