Banned Thai opposition figure faces new criminal charges

BANGKOK: Thailand’s Election Commission said on Wednesday (Mar 11) it would file a charge against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party, for breaching electoral law in the latest action against the former politician.

“This is criminal case where the EC (Commission) is the complainant. The legal process will be handled by the police,” Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of the commission, told Reuters.

Last month, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Future Forward Party and banned 16 of its top officials, including its leader, from politics for 10 years over what the court ruled was an illegal loan from its founder.

The legal moves, which sparked protests by students and were condemned by pro-democracy activists, bolstered the position in parliament of a coalition led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the ex-military leader who took power in a 2014 coup.

Thanathorn, a charismatic billionaire who founded the party, already faces two criminal charges, one for computer crimes over a speech he posted on Facebook criticising the military government and another for sedition for allegedly aiding protesters in 2015.

An Election Commission statement said the new charges against Thanathorn touched on his application to be a candidate for parliament knowing he was not qualified. The offence carries a jail term of one to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht (US$6,370) and a 20-year ban from politics.

The charges follow the Constitutional Court’s decision last year to disqualify Thanathorn as a member of parliament for holding shares in a media company on the date his election candidacy was registered.

“It is clear there is an attempt to eliminate #Thanathorn and former leaders of the #FutureForward Party from the political system,” Thanathorn responded in a Twitter post.

“This shows that the Thai political system is bankrupt,” the post said, echoing his call for Prayuth to resign and for the public to demand reforms of the judiciary and military.

Thanathorn has previously denied breaching electoral law, saying he sold his shares in the media company prior to registering as a candidate.

Future Forward finished third in the March 2019 election and emerged as a major adversary to the government. Prayuth’s pro-military party came second in the election though won the popular vote. Opposition parties say electoral laws written by the military government were designed to ensure continued control over politics by the military establishment.

Thanathorn, heir to an auto-parts fortune, has vowed to continue fighting for democracy.

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