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Thai ex-PM Samak loses another court battle

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September 25, 2008

Thai ex-PM Samak loses another court battle
Key Cabinet posts given to people close to ousted PM Thaksin

Thailand's Appeals Court upheld a two-year jail sentence Thursday in a defamation case against former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who was recently forced to resign for violating the constitution, reported the Associated Press.

Samak, who rose to his feet for the verdict, was stunned by the court's decision and lost his balance. Two court aides caught his arms to prevent him from falling.

The court said it saw no reason to suspend the jail term handed down last year by the Criminal Court, which convicted Samak of defaming a former deputy mayor of Bangkok during a television talk show in January 2006.

Defense attorney Prachum Thongmee said Samak would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

The Criminal Court verdict was in April 2007 and the sentence was on appeal when Samak became prime minister early this year. Samak, known for his sharp tongue, had been convicted three other times for defamation and given suspended sentences.

This time, the Appeals Court said it wanted to teach him a lesson.

"The defendant has repeatedly defamed others with groundless, damaging information," the court said in its decision Thursday, read out by a judge. "The courts have given the defendant chances to reform and change his behavior but the defendant has not changed. So there is no reason to reduce the punishment."

The defamation occurred when Samak accused the city official of receiving a luxury car as a bribe from a construction firm - a charge the official proved was groundless after showing he had bought the car.
Thursday's ruling was the second crucial court battle lost by Samak this month. Both stemmed from television appearances.
He was kicked out of office Sept. 9 when the Constitutional Court ruled he had violated confict-of-interest laws by accepting pay for hosting TV cooking shows while serving as prime minister.

Samak's resignation had been demanded for weeks by anti-government protesters, who accused Samak of acting as a proxy for deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The court action was not directly related to the protests.

On Wednesday, a newly endorsed Cabinet led by Somchai Wongsawat, a brother-in-law of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was announced Wednesday.

Somchai will lead the Cabinet members for an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej today to take an oath of office.

Somchai, 61, a deputy leader of the ruling People Power Party, began his political career after retirement as top bureaucrat at the Labor Ministry two years ago.

His wife, Yaowapa, who is Thaksin's younger sister, has been banned from politics for five years since last year as she and Thaksin were among the 111 executives of the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party barred after the party was outlawed.

Despite a soft-spoken character and being well-respected as a former career judge, Somchai is seen by some as just another proxy of Thaksin, who is now lives in exile with his wife and three children in Britain.

Somchai appointed people close to Thaksin to the portfolios of foreign affairs, finance and interior.

Suchart Thadathamrongvej, 56, who was named finance minister, taught economics at a public university in Bangkok and is said to have been one of Thaksin's advisers for years.

Last Sunday, Suchart was elected as leader of the Puea Thai Party, a new party founded because the PPP, of which former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej still serves as the leader, might be disbanded for election fraud by one of its executives.

Specialising in public finance, Suchart was appointed as a deputy finance minister in the Samak-led Cabinet only last month. Veteran

Sompong Amornvivat, 67, was named foreign minister and also a deputy premier. He was one of the founding members of the Thai Rak Thai Party, was an adviser to the prime minister from 2001 to 2005 and was briefly Thailand's trade representative from 2005-2006. Sompong was a minister in several other ministries, including industry and labor. He was deputy prime minister and justice minister under Samak.

Another key appointment is Olarn Chaipravat, 63, who was named as deputy prime minister with the expectation of supervising economic policies.

Olarn is a former president of Thailand's oldest commercial bank -- Siam Commercial -- and has been a board member of Shinawatra University, under Thaksin's chairmanship.

Somchai kept for himself the Defense Ministry portfolio and retained Kowit Wattana as interior minister.

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