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Will Thailand seize the Thaksin fortune?

A ruling next month on fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra could spark fresh violence.

A recent 3,000-person rally near the mountain home of Gen. Surayud Chulanont — installed as premier after Thaksin’s coup — has called into question whether his estate is built on national parklands.

These attacks on hypocrisy are commendable, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political scientist with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. But they’re somewhat discredited by Thaksin’s dubious record, he said.

“You want to talk double standards? Come on,” Pavin said. “Please try to tell me Thaksin never did anything in his power to get things illegally. Why invoke Thaksin when he doesn’t have a clean image?”

Many academics, including Pavin, assume that Thaksin finances his supporters’ elaborate rallies, which involve tour buses ferrying upcountry Thais to Bangkok, expensive stage set-ups and tens of thousands of free meals.

These mass gatherings define the movement, both heartening supporters and displaying strength in numbers to intimidate the government. But if Thaksin’s wealth is drained out — his holdings outside Thailand amount to roughly $100 million, he told The Times of London — then the movement may lose much of its financing.

“If this war is about money,” Pavin said, “then the Bangkok old establishment is safe. They have plenty of money. But for Thaksin and the red shirts, they now have problems.”

Thaksin has already started rebuilding his wealth through scattered business ventures, notably gold mining concessions in Uganda.

He’s also cast himself as an investment counsellor to the developing world. He claims to have earned Nicaraguan and Montenegrin passports by offering both countries financial guidance.

More recently, he worsened sore Thai-Cambodian relations by accepting a financial advisor’s position from Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen. Thailand’s ruling party has refused to normalize diplomatic ties until the job is revoked.

Regardless of Thaksin’s wealth, the red shirt movement will persevere, said Boonpracong, the red shirt spokesman. “The world doesn’t fully understand us. We’re the largest pro-democracy movement in Asia,” he said. “We just happen to have overlapping interests with Thaksin.”