THAILAND: Thaksin hires high-profile Washington lobbyists

Democrat Party leader says Thaksin not done with politics yet; Time magazine takes flack for publishing interview with Thaksin

Bangkok Post
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has hired the Baker Botts law firm headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, according to a US lobbying registration form obtained on Wednesday by a senior Democrat Party executive.

Mr Thaksin has not quit politics as he claims, Democrat party executive Kobsak Sabhavasu said, as hiring the well-established lobbying firm shows he is seeking US support for his return to Thailand.

Mr Kobsak said that on Dec 11 last year Mr Thaksin hired Baker Botts LLP. This is the second such US firm which Mr Thaksin is known to have hired.

The law firm counts James Baker, former secretary of state under US president George Bush, among its partners, according to its website.

Mr Kobsak said in a document filed with the US House of Representatives Baker Botts LLP disclosed that it had been hired by Mr Thaksin.

It said Mr Thaksin, as the client of Mr Baker, described himself as the freely elected prime minister of Thailand.

Mr Kobsak said the firm was contracted to ensure the consistency of US government policies on Mr Thaksin's return to Thailand.

"I reveal this to tell people nationwide that Mr Thaksin has not quit politics. Mr Thaksin says one thing and does another. Mr Thaksin wants to return to Thailand as soon as possible and is trying to return by using a foreign government to support his right to do so.

"Mr Thaksin is saying he will return as the freely elected prime minister, and he is confident that he is still the prime minister," Mr Kobsak said.

He urged the Surayud government to take action against Mr Thaksin, saying that identifying himself as the prime minister as he had could be viewed as a rebellious act because His Majesty the King had already appointed Gen Surayud Chulanont as prime minister.

Earlier, Mr Thaksin hired another well-connected lobbying firm, Barbour Griffith and Rogers (BGR).

In their Sept 7 disclosure to the US Senate, BGR described Mr Thaksin's "business and activities" as "promoting democracy in Asia".

The firm said its job as contracted by Mr Thaksin was to "provide guidance and counsel with regard to Mr Thaksin's interests in Washington DC and abroad".

In response, Mr Thaksin's legal adviser Noppadon Pattama said yesterday that the "freely elected prime minister of Thailand" description was written by Baker Botts and the clause was part of a sentence in the past tense.

He said Mr Kobsak misinterpreted the information and he denied Baker Botts was a lobbying firm.

US ambassador Ralph Boyce said anyone had the right to hire a registered lobbying firm in the US.

What Mr Thaksin was doing could not be confused with bilateral relations between Bangkok and Washington, the ambassador said.

Late last month Mr Thaksin told Time magazine that he was "calling it quits" with politics.

In the interview, he also claimed that he had never interfered in media activities, sparking a stiff rebuke to Time from media associations, and criticism from academics.

Ali Zelenko, Time's vice-president for communications, said the magazine did not necessarily agree or endorse the views of the interviewees it published.

"It goes without saying that Time does not pay for interviews or allow money or influence to dictate what goes into the magazine."

The exiled prime minister went to Bali yesterday for golf and shopping on his second visit to the Indonesian resort island since he was ousted in the coup.

Mr Thaksin landed in a private plane and played a round of golf at the Tabanan course.

He last visited Bali for a few days with his wife in November and stayed at a secluded residence attached to a luxury hotel in the Nusa Dua tourist area.