THAILAND: Sondhi to face criminal charges over 'insults' to Thai King
Police summon Sondhi to return from China to face criminal charges for insulting the monarch at a public rally
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Bangkok --- Businessman Sondhi Limthongkul, who spearheaded two months of protests that eventually led Thailand's Prime Minister to stand down, will face criminal charges over remarks considered insulting to the King.
National police spokesman Ajirawid Subarnbhesaj said yesterday: "With the evidence that police have found, it is likely that his remarks are what would be considered an insult to the King."
Mr Sondhi, one of outgoing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's fiercest critics, has denied that his comments to thousands of protesters at a rally before this month's controversial elections were insulting.
He could face 15 years in jail if convicted of insulting the King, considered a serious crime in this country where the monarch is widely revered.
A Thai-language newspaper, Kom Chad Luek, has already apologised for publishing the remarks and suspended publication for five days in remorse as it pleads for royal clemency.
Mr Sondhi, who left on Sunday for his second trip to China in two weeks, has been summoned to give testimony to police on April 17, when the charges will be read to him.
Police will then continue their investigation before prosecutors decide whether to take Mr Sondhi to court.
"If he fails to come to see the police after another two more summons, we could issue an arrest warrant," Mr Ajirawid told reporters.
Mr Sondhi will not be taken into custody when he gives his testimony, but will be forced to pay a fine as the investigation continues, police said.
Mr Ajirawid said 102 complaints had been filed against Mr Sondhi across the country by people who felt he had insulted the King at the March 23 rally.
Thailand's army commander has told Thai newspapers that he had studied a recording of the rally and he believed the speech had offended the King.
"The military is not happy. I do not want anyone to refer to the King like that," the Thai Rath newspaper quoted him as saying.
The government, still run by Mr Thaksin's party, has denied that the charges are an attempt to silence the outgoing Premier's fiercest critic.
"Police will decide whether to arrest Sondhi. The government has not ordered them to arrest him. This is not an attempt to get rid of a protest leader," said Mr Chidchai Vanasathidya, who is Acting Prime Minister until Mr Thaksin's successor is named.
Date Posted: 4/11/2006