Democrats go after new foreign minister for his role in getting Japan visa for fugitive Thaksin
The opposition Democrat Party yesterday launched a campaign to seek impeachment of embattled Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul, whom it accused of helping ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra get a visa to Japan despite his status as a fugitive convict.
The Democrats also filed a criminal complaint against the new foreign minister for assisting Thaksin, who was in 2008 sentenced to two years' imprisonment and is wanted in connection with last year's unrest and riots.
Senior Democrat MPs Nipit Intarasombat and Virut Kalayasiri, who are the party's legal experts, called a news conference yesterday to announce the Democrats' legal action against Surapong for his alleged assistance to Thaksin.
Nipit said Surapong's actions contravened the Constitution when he told the Japanese ambassador that this government's policy differed from the previous administration's regarding Thaksin. Surapong referred to the government policy even before the government actually declared it before Parliament, the opposition MP noted. He said that as a state official, it was improper for Surapong to do this, given the fact that Thaksin was a fugitive under Thai law.
The Democrats' legal team agreed yesterday to submit a petition seeking the foreign minister's impeachment, a move that would require support from at least 125 MPs, according to Nipit, who added that he expected the required number of MP proponents to be reached by today. He said Virut had drafted the petition and it would be submitted to the Senate Speaker on Monday.
Nipit yesterday said the foreign minister also violated the Penal Code by helping Thaksin escape an arrest. He said Surapong was unaware Thaksin was travelling to Japan, but instead of asking the Japanese authorities to arrest him, he was instrumental in requesting an entry visa for him.
He said the Democrats might also take the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission for an investigation into whether there was any individual behind the foreign minister's moves and whether Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - who is Thaksin's sister - was involved with this matter.
"This is a big issue. If Surapong did not get an order or a signal from anyone, I don't think he would dare to have done it," the Democrat MP said.
Regarding criminal action, Virut and Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong yesterday filed a complaint at Bangkok's Phaya Thai police station, accusing Surapong of assisting a person wanted by the authorities, which is against Articles 189 and 192 of the Penal Code.
Virut said that if not for the foreign minister's request, Japan would not have issued an entry visa for Thaksin.
Japanese law does not allow the entry of a person who has been found guilty and given a jail term of more than a year, but the justice minister can issue a special permit.
"It is widely known that Thaksin is escaping a jail sentence for a criminal offence. The Democrat-led government tried to bring him back to serve his term. But the Pheu Thai government is now offering Thaksin the convenience of going to different places without being arrested," Virut said.
Pol Maj-General Wichai Sangprapai, commander of Metropolitan Police Bureau 1, said investigators would determine whether the foreign minister had committed any wrongdoing before summoning him to hear the charge. He added that the process would not take much time.
According to Japanese officials, Japan decided to issue a visa for Thaksin in the light of a Thai government request and various related considerations. They said Bangkok urged the approval of Thaksin's visa, saying it would help improve bilateral ties.
Prime Minister Yingluck yesterday said her government had no policy of helping Thaksin.
Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said the Democrats were too quick to attack the government. He also threatened possible legal action by Pheu Thai against the Democrats if they were found to have made false allegations against Surapong. He said that if found guilty, the Democrat Party could be disbanded.
In a related development, Tul Srisomwong, leader of the multicolour-shirts group, submitted a letter to the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok opposing the special entry permit given to Thaksin.
"I want justice-loving Japanese people to question the move by their government," he said.
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