Former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Sentenced to Prison Over Lottery Program

Posted on: June 8, 2019, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: June 7, 2019, 11:46h.

Former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been given an additional two-year prison sentence for his handling of a state lottery program when he was in office more than a decade ago.

Thailand casino Thaksin Shinawatra lottery
If Thaksin Shinawatra wants to return to Thailand, the exiled former prime minister’s accommodations will be inside a federal prison. (Image: AFP)

On Thursday, Thailand’s Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions tacked two more years of  onto Shinawatra’s time he is to serve behind bars. The former PM was sentenced to three years in April for directing Thailand’s Export-Import Bank to approve a loan that went to a satellite communications company he and his family at the time controlled.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that Shinawatra formed a lottery game in 2003 that mimicked games typically ran by underground bookies. The court found him guilty of illegally launching a two- and three-digit lottery scheme over 10 years ago.

The Associated Press says, “The illegal lottery is hugely popular, and Thaksin’s scheme was an attempt to steer some of the money that went to it to government coffers instead.”

Shinawatra was ousted from office in 2006 by a military coup. He has lived in self-exile since, maintaining residence in Dubai. He isn’t expected to report to Thailand to serve his prison time, and could not be reached for comment on the latest legal developments.

Thailand Gaming

Most forms of gambling in Thailand are illegal under the Gambling Act of 1935. The exceptions are parimutuel wagering on horse races and the government-run lottery.

That isn’t to say all Thai residents are playing by the rules. In 2017, federal police busted 10 underground casinos that researchers at Rangist University said were collectively bringing in as much as $5.6 billion annually.

Legal casinos aren’t far away. Just across the Thailand-Cambodia border is the “Poipet Strip,” which is home to nearly two-dozen casinos. After 46 years without operation, train service between the two countries resumed in April.

Legalizing its own casinos has long been an issue considered in the Thailand government, but the gaming industry remains barred to date.

Royalist Courts

Thaksin became a self-made billionaire in the information technology and telecommunications industries. He used his great wealth to form the Thai Rak Thai Party, and rose to power in the government.

He became prime minister in a landslide election in 2001, and was easily reelected four years later. However, after he sold roughly $1 billion in shares of his company to foreign investors tax-free, criticism of his leadership began to intensify.

On September 19, 2006, a military coup removed him from power and the Thai Rak Thai Party was banned. Thaksin was additionally prohibited from engaging in political activity for life.

Thailand’s political power was shook up during his tenure as PM. The country’s ruling circle including the royalists, industrialists, and the military all saw their powers reduced.

The AP reports that the court system in Thailand is “one of Thailand’s most royalist and conservative institutions,” and “played a major role in fighting comebacks by his political machine with controversial rulings that consistently whittled away at his allies.”