Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pleaded innocent on Wednesday before the Supreme Court in one of two corruption cases against him, a day before his trip to England to “tighten the bolt” on his soccer team.
The court set the next hearing for April 29 and also excused the former leader from having to appear in person at every hearing, as his lawyer requested. The court on Tuesday granted his request for a month-long trip starting on Thursday to England, where he owns Premier League team Manchester City, which has lost two of its past three games.
“We can prove our innocence,” Thaksin said before appearing in court.
Thaksin, who was ousted by a September 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power, faces conflict of interest and malfeasance charges related to his wife’s purchase of a prime piece of Bangkok real estate in 2003.
She bought the land from a government agency despite an anti-corruption law barring politicians and their spouses from doing business with state agencies.
In another case, he is accused of not declaring all his assets as required by political office holders. Out on bail in both cases, he faces a prison term of up to 15 years.
More than 200 policemen with bomb detectors and five sniffer dogs were deployed around the court while about 400 Thaksin supporters waited outside. Some burst into tears when he emerged after the hearing, shouting “Thaksin, fight, fight” and holding up portraits of him.
“Never mind, everything will be OK,” Thaksin told one female supporter who cried as she hugged him.
The court earlier granted Thaksin permission to leave Thailand on Thursday for a month to “look after his soccer team and do some private business, spokesman Pongthep Thepkanjana said.
The court’s secretary, Rakkiat Pattanaphong, said Thaksin must report back to the panel on April 11.
Thaksin, who became a billionaire in telecommunications, bought Manchester City during his 17 months of post-coup exile. The team is ranked eighth in the Premier League. It plays 11th-place Tottenham on Sunday.
“That’s the reason I have to go back (the) day after tomorrow. That’s my commitment to Manchester City,” Thaksin said.
“I feel like they are losing so many games, win very few games in the past three, four months while I am still busy, so I have to go back and tighten the bolt.”
Thaksin, who was abroad at the time of the coup against him, returned to Thailand on February 28. A court dissolved his former ruling Thai Rak Thai party last year and banned him and more than 100 of its top executives from political office for five years.
Thaksin, who was prime minister in 2001-06, has insisted he has no interest in returning to politics and has said he plans to devote himself to charity work, sports and his family.
However, his return has stirred the Thai political scene because of suspicions that Thaksin will seek a return to power and try to settle the score against those who deposed him.
Former Thai PM Thaksin pleads innocent in court