World

Thai ‘yellow shirt’ leader jailed, then bailed for fraud

BANGKOK, Feb 28 – A firebrand media mogul and leader of Thailand’s royalist “yellow shirts” protest movement was jailed today for 20 years for securities fraud, but immediately bailed on appeal.

The Criminal Court sentenced Sondhi Limthongkul (picture), who led protests in 2005, 2006 and 2008 that undermined two elected governments led or backed by ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, to a total of 85 years in prison, but commuted the term twice to 20 years.

He pleaded guilty to signing false documents that allowed his Manager Media Group to seek bank loans amounting to 1.1 billion baht (RM108.49 million) but was freed on bail pending an appeal against the sentence.

Sondhi, a key agitator in Thailand’s six-year colour-coded political crisis, admitted to violating the Securities and Exchange Act with 17 counts of corporate fraud between 1996 and 1998, each attracting a five-year sentence.

“Sondhi wrongly mismanaged the company, causing great loss to the company, for his own benefit,” the judge said in reading the verdict.

The Manager Media Group company owns websites, newspapers, magazines, radio stations and two satellite television channels.

It was the fourth time that Sondhi, 64, the charismatic leader of the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had been jailed by a top court but released on bail pending appeals.

He has kept a lower profile since surviving an assassination attempt in 2009 but has made several strong speeches against the seven-month-old government led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

The PAD, who wear yellow, the colour associated with Thailand’s revered king, have threatened to rally against constitutional amendments proposed by Yingluck’s government, which critics dismiss as attempts to whitewash Thaksin of his graft conviction to allow him to return from self-imposed exile.

Although the PAD’s power has waned substantially since it shut down government offices and Bangkok’s main airports in 2008 to prevent a pro-Thaksin government from amending the constitution, analysts say it could regain strength if Thaksin’s return appears likely.

Sondhi was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007 for defaming Thaksin and received three separate jail terms two years later for defaming three other people, including two close allies of Thaksin.

He has also been indicted on charges of terrorism relating to the crippling airport blockade. The case is still under investigation. – Reuters

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