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Confident Pin won't bow to Thai Courts

 

POURING contempt on Thai prosecutors and ridiculing the Thai justice system, Pin Chakkaphak, the fugitive financier who is to appear before a British court for an extradition hearing today, has vowed never to return to Thailand.

In a statement he sent from London to the Thai media on Dec 14, Pin was harsh, unrepentant and offensive. ''I fully believe in and am convinced of my innocence of any criminal charges or acts whatever,'' he insisted. ''I remained abroad because of the recklessness of the prosecution's tactics and the political motivation and management of the prosecution. I had no confidence in their regard for due process,'' he added.

With this aggressive missive, Pin declared war on the entire Thai justice system. Relying on a similar strategy employed by Rakesh Saxena, the fugitive who is currently facing extradition from Canada, he claimed that the charges against him are ''politically motivated, in discord with law and justice''.

Rattakorn Nimwattana, the Bank of Thailand's assistant governor of legal affairs, reacted coolly to Pin's harsh comments, saying it is clear that Pin intends to fight the extradition charge and never return to Thailand.

Pin has been on the run for the past two years. Along with Termchai Pinyawatana and Samrarn Kanokwattanawan, his two top lieutenants, Pin faces criminal charges for allegedly embezzling about Bt2.1 billion from Finance One, the company he ran before it was shut down along with 58 other finance companies at the height of the financial crisis in 1997. Termchai's case has reached the court, but the cases against Pin and Samrarn remain on the desk of the Economic Crime Suppression Division.

Pin failed to show up for questioning. He fled Thailand shortly after Finance One was shut down having been tipped off that the Thai authorities were certain to go after him.

Since then he has been shuttling between Hong Kong, London and New York on his US passport. Pin's whereabouts were no secret to the Thai authorities, but his connections in Thailand ensured that he could outmanoeuvre them. He was always one step ahead of every attempt to nab him.

Pin must have been confident that Thai authorities would never reach him because he lived quite openly. His family was divided on how Pin should fight the case against him. His Thai lawyers, at the firm of Kaneung and Associates, wanted Pin to return to Bangkok, so that they could help him. For better or for worse, it is still a lot easier to settle things in Thailand, despite all of Pin's criticisms of the legal system here, they said.

But Pin's wife told a friend that she did not want him to return. Both she and her husband claim that they do not trust the Thai legal system. Pin feared that he would not be able to get bail. Initially, he tried to reach an out-of-court settlement, making it known that he was prepared to pay damages amounting to between Bt2 billion and Bt3 billion. But Thai authorities rejected the deal because, unlike the US, there are no legal precedents in Thailand for out-of-court settlements.

Last Saturday morning, only four days before the Thai Parliament scheduled a no-confidence debate against the Chuan Leekpai government, the British police, acting on a tip-off from the FBI, captured Pin at his London apartment. They used an arrest warrant from a British magistrate, issued at the request of Thai prosecutors.

Pin is now in custody at Brixton prison. The Bow Street Magistrates Court is scheduled to begin an extradition hearing against him this afternoon.

According to one of Pin's legal representatives, Pin did not consider himself to be a ''fugitive from justice'' because he travelled openly on his US passport, had his name listed in a London telephone book and was well known in the Thai communities in both Hong Kong and London.

The lawyer expressed confidence that Pin would get bail based on his claim that he was innocent of all accusations.

A Thai lawyer, who knows Pin well, said that Pin was not acting very cautiously. ''I feel pity for him because he was arrested in the UK. If he were arrested in the US, the situation would be very different. He could have hired good lawyers to defend him against the extradition charge. He could have cited the political prosecutions against him and the US court normally has a sympathetic ear toward this kind of case,'' the lawyer explained.

A local banker agreed that Pin was over-confident in his belief that he could remain above Thai law. ''If he had been more cautious he would have gone to Brazil where the law would never have touched him,'' he noted.

BY THANONG KHANTHONG

 

 

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