Thailand’s exiled Shinawatras making waves abroad
Coup-ousted, self-exiled ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra is now gainfully employed at a Chinese port facility
Coup-ousted and now self-exiled ex-Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra is making headlines again after fleeing the kingdom in 2017 under legal duress for an official corruption charge.
According to China’s Caixin news outlet, Yingluck was appointed in mid-December as chairwoman of the Shantou International Container Terminal in China’s southern Guangdong province. The short article said the ex-premier was also appointed as the firm’s legal representative.
Since fleeing into exile, Yingluck has been spotted in the United Kingdom, where the Shinawatra family is known to maintain private residences in London and Birmingham, and late last year in Singapore for a crypto-currency event.
Before assuming the premiership in 2011, Yingluck served as a senior executive, including a stint as head of the phonebook department, at the then Shinawatra family-owned Shin Corp telecom company. She also served as chief executive officer of the family’s SC Asset property company.
Yingluck is not known to have any private professional experience in the transport sector, sparking speculation about what may be behind the appointment. Yingluck and her elder brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, were spotted in Shantou shortly before the news of her appointment broke, Thai media reported. No details were provided of Yingluck’s compensation for the position.
Some analysts believe the appointment could signal more sympathetic treatment for China’s Belt and Road Initiative-related infrastructure ambitions in Thailand if the coup-toppled, Shinawatra-aligned Peua Thai party is returned to power at polls expected this year.
The incumbent ruling junta, led by coup-maker premier Prayut Chan-ocha, has maintained cordial relations with Beijing but has not delivered despite heavy lobbying from Chinese officials for a high-speed railway connecting the two countries through Laos and a strategically sensitive sea-connecting canal project.
Thaksin has taken hard aim at the junta’s economic record over social media. One senior Peua Thai official told Asia Times in a recent interview that a Peua Thai-led government would aim to improve economic relations with China his party perceives the current ruling junta has mismanaged.
Neither Thaksin nor Yingluck, both criminally convicted, are permitted under Thai law to have any influence over Peua Thai. Nonetheless, Thaksin is widely viewed as the party’s de facto leader. Yingluck’s employment at a China-based company also appears to show that Beijing does not recognize the legitimacy of her criminal conviction.
Other Bangkok-based analysts speculate that Yingluck’s new position could provide an entry point for Thaksin to become involved with Hong Kong-based Hutchison Port Holdings’ recent US$600 million investment in Thailand’s Laem Chabang port, the country’s main trade facility.
Hutchison operates the Shantou International Container Terminal, which is situated in a special economic zone, according to its website. The company has not commented publicly on Yingluck’s new post.
Thaksin has business interests across the globe, including in mining, medical technology and a previous controlling interest in Premier League football club Manchester City, though until now he is not known to have holdings in shipping or logistics, analysts say.
One Bangkok-based envoy with access to “five eyes” intelligence information recently estimated the ex-premier’s wealth at US$600 million. Criminally convicted in Thailand in 2008 on a land deal-related corruption charge, Thaksin’s investments abroad are also making waves.
Thaksin has faced local protests in Montenegro over his plan to build a hotel with 500 boat berths and marina on the island of St Nikola, the local newspaper Vijesti reported last year. Nongovernmental groups have said Thaksin’s plan aimed to urbanize the unspoiled island and runs counter to the “original authentic values of the Mediterranean lifestyle.”
The ex-leader is known to have obtained Montenegrin citizenship after his Thai passport was cancelled over his criminal conviction and flight into exile. Thaksin could not be reached for comment for this report.