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Legal woes pile up for maverick Thai politician

Court suspends Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as MP as it takes up case against him over 'illegal' shares

Legal woes pile up for maverick Thai politician

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit smiles during a press conference in Bangkok in this March 25, 2019 file photo. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

The legal woes of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of a progressive political party, have taken a turn for the worse after Thailand’s Constitutional Court suspended the maverick politician’s status as a newly elected member of parliament.

The nine-judge bench voted on May 23 to take up a case against the billionaire businessman over what appears to be a legal technicality.

The complaint against Thanathorn was lodged controversially by the country’s Election Commission. It accused the politician of having violated electoral law by still owning shares in a small and defunct media company when he applied to become an MP earlier this year.

The media firm in question, V-Luck Media Co. Ltd., published an in-flight magazine for a low-cost airline until two years ago. The company has been in the process of being closed down and Thanathorn said he had sold all his shares to his mother in January.

Thailand’s latest constitution, drafted under the auspices of the junta that seized power in a 2014 coup, makes it illegal for politicians to hold shares in media companies.

The auto parts tycoon-turned politician could be banned from politics for up to 20 years if found guilty. He also faces the prospect of being jailed for up to 10 years.

Thanathorn, 40, is facing several other charges. They include a charge of sedition for allegedly having given a ride back home to a young political activist who participated in a small anti-junta rally in 2015 despite a ban on all political gatherings imposed by the military at the time.

He will be tried by a military tribunal, and if convicted he could be sent to prison for years.

At a meeting with foreign journalists last week, Thanathorn called the legal cases against him “politically motivated.” He said there was a “systematic and well-coordinated” campaign whose aim was to use judicial proceedings to roll back the electoral success of his Future Forward Party.  

The party, formed by him and several like-minded young Thais last year, has been especially popular with young voters. It won 89 seats in national elections that were held in March after five years of military rule.

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The Election Commission later stripped the party of nine seats after controversial recounts in certain voting districts. Future Forward says the recounts were marred by irregularities and that it will challenge those results.  

The party’s platform calls for several sweeping reforms, including a reduced role for the military in politics.

Several foreign commentators argue that the charges against Thanathorn are a means by the military and its allies to neutralize him and his Future Forward Party via legal channels.

Jonathan Head, the BBC’s Bangkok-based correspondent, said in a tweet May 23 that the Constitutional Court’s decision to take up the case against the young politician is “one of several ‘legal’ ways [with which] they can bring him down.”

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