Thaksin pleads not guilty to Thai graft charges
Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pleaded not guilty to corruption charges against him and his wife on Wednesday as hundreds of supporters outside the Supreme Court chanted their support for him.
In a statement to a nine-judge court, Thaksin denied he and his wife Potjaman violated anti-graft laws that prevent serving politicians and their spouses from doing business deals with state agencies.
The couple had "submitted a joint affidavit denying all the charges", chief judge Thonglor Chomngam said.
The charges resulted from an investigation by a panel appointed by the generals who toppled the twice-elected Thaksin in a bloodless 2006 coup.
Thaksin insists he will never return to politics despite his still huge popularity.
The charges stemmed from Potjaman's purchase of a prime piece of land in downtown Bangkok owned by the central bank at an auction other bidders backed out of.
Potjaman pleaded not guilty to the charge in January after a return from exile interpreted by analysts as designed to mend ties with the coup leaders and the royalist establishment backing them to pave the way for Thaksin's homecoming.
If convicted, Potjaman and Thaksin, who returned from 18 months in exile in February, could face up to 10 years in jail.
But political analysts say it is unlikely the couple would end up behind bars as witnesses from state agencies and bidders who dropped out would be reluctant to testify against them now a Thaksin-supported party was leading a coalition government.
"There will be a wholesale effort to wipe the slate clean to allow Thaksin and Potjaman to get off," said Chulalongkorn University political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
Thaksin left the 30-minute court session without talking to reporters, but later got out of his armoured luxury car to greet a tearful crowd chanting "Thaksin, our beloved PM".
"I pray that he survives every case against him,"Siriwan Meesak, a woman in her 50s, told Reuters.
After his ouster, Thaksin, who has had nearly $2 billion of his family assets frozen, was accused by the coupmakers of presiding over rampant corruption during his five years in power, but he and his family have faced few formal charges.
On Monday, army-appointed graftbusters filed new charges against Thaksin, accusing him and 46 cabinet ministers and other top officials of illegal use of funds from a state lottery, wrongly approving and operating the lottery from 2003 to 2006.
The court allowed Thaksin, who told foreign correspondents on Tuesday it was time to bury the hatchet with his enemies and allow the country to move forward, to take a month trip to England from Thursday.
Thaksin said the trip would be focused on halting the slump in form of Manchester City, the English Premier League soccer club he bought while in exile.
The court, which said lawyers for the two sides should present lists of witnesses and evidence on April 29 and 30, agreed Thaksin need not show up personally at further hearings, a Thaksin lawyer said.
(Writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Michael Battye and Jerry Norton)