, BANGKOK, Feb 26 – Thailand\’s top court will decide on Friday whether to seize the $2.3-billion fortune of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in a ruling that could unleash fresh political turmoil.
Dubbed "Judgement Day" by local media, the looming verdict has prompted the government to deploy tens of thousands of security forces across the country amid warnings of potential violence by Thaksin\’s supporters.
The nine judges arrived at the court in bulletproof cars and began meeting to discuss their individual decisions, which will later be merged into the final, common verdict, local television said.
The case centres on the frozen proceeds from the sale of Thaksin\’s telecommunications company in 2006 – the year he was ousted in a military coup – and Thaksin said ahead of the judgement that it was all earned honestly.
"I want to reaffirm that I and my family earned all of the money with our hard work, brains, and sweat. We have never been corrupt as accused," he said on Twitter early on Friday from his current base in Dubai.
But the troubled tycoon urged his supporters in Thailand, known as the Red Shirts, not to go to the court to protest as his family members would not be there either.
Up to 35,000 police and soldiers have been ordered to secure Bangkok and provinces where Thaksin is popular, and around 450 police officers will be deployed at the Supreme Court alone. Key facts of the case against ex-Thai PM Thaksin
Security was also tight around the offices of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose resignation the Red Shirts have demanded, and the government said it had prepared several safe houses for him.
"As of today security will intensify to the maximum," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.
The judges have various options, such as ruling that the government should confiscate all or none of Thaksin\’s wealth, or that it should take only part of the money, for example the portion he earned after taking power.
Thaksin was ousted after months of protests over the January 2006 sale by his family of nearly 50 percent of shares in his Shin Corp telecoms giant to Singapore\’s Temasek Holdings.
The funds were frozen by the country\’s anti-graft commission shortly afterwards on the grounds that Thaksin had became "unusually rich" by abusing his power after becoming prime minister in 2001.
Thaksin\’s lawyers have argued that the assets actually belong to his former partner, their children and other family members and cannot be seized by the government.
Thaksin is living abroad, with his main base in Dubai, to avoid a jail term imposed in absentia in 2008 for corruption.
The case goes to the heart of the rifts that have opened up in Thai society since the coup forced Thaksin into exile. Key dates in saga of Thailand\’s Thaksin
The Red Shirts, largely from his stronghold in Thailand\’s impoverished north and northeast, loved his populist policies and accuse the current government of being an unelected elite that has hijacked their democratic rights.
The tycoon\’s opponents in the Bangkok-based circles around the palace, military and bureaucracy accuse Thaksin of being corrupt, dictatorial and of threatening Thailand\’s widely revered monarchy.
"Thailand is dreading the Supreme Court\’s verdict…" analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
"No matter how his wealth is disposed, given Thailand\’s political polarization the only certainty is that no one will be satisfied."
The main Red Shirt movement says it will not demonstrate outside the court on Friday but they will hold mass protests in Bangkok from March 12.
Police said they expected only a few hundred protesters from a splinter group to gather near the court on Friday and up to 3,000 elsewhere in the capital.
Red Shirt riots at an Asian summit and in Bangkok in April 2009 left two people dead and scores injured.