Thanathorn arrives to face his first hearing over disputed media shares at the Constitutional Court in Bangkok on Friday. Lillian Suwanrumpha/ AFP
The charismatic frontman of Thailand’s anti-military parliamentary bloc appeared in court on Friday accused of breaching election rules by holding media shares, a case which could see him barred from politics and jailed for up to 10 years.
Billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, has rattled the kingdom’s arch-royalist establishment since seizing the political limelight with his caustic take downs of the army’s role in Thai politics and society.
His upstart Future Forward Party became Thailand’s third largest political group in a March election which ended five years of outright junta rule.
The party was backed by millions of young people wearied by the dominance of the conservative old guard.
But Thanathorn’s electoral success has been matched by a battery of legal woes.
He has been suspended from attending parliament since the Election Commission accused him of breaking polling laws by holding media shares - an offence that carries a long jail term.
Arriving for the first hearing at the Constitutional Court on Friday Thanathorn again pleaded his “innocence” telling reporters the media company had ceased operations five months before the election.
“We are convinced that there is no evidence,” he said.
His supporters say the case has been trumped up to take out Thailand’s most popular politician and deliver a gut punch to the FFP and its radical reform agenda.
The party wants to amend the constitution to excise the military’s influence, slash defence spending and end conscription to an army that has carried out a coup at an average of once every seven years since the 1932 establishment of a constitutional monarchy.
“The party is against the military... I support their vision and I absolutely support Mr Thanathorn,” Punjarat Wattawongvibul, 35, told AFP outside the court.
The highly-interventionist court disbanded a different anti-military opposition party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra right before the March election.
Thanathorn has also been singled out by the kingdom’s powerful army chief.
General Apirat Kongsompong last week delivered a diatribe warning of the spectre of a commmunist rebellion in a speech flecked with barely-concealed references to Thanathorn and his party.
Future Forward have been a rare voice of criticism against Thailand’s royalist establishment.
The monarchy, one of the world’s richest and headed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is at the apex of Thai power.
On Thursday 70 Future Forward MPs voted against a royal decree transferring two key army units to the direct control of the king — an unprecedented political objection to a royal command.
The decree still passed parliament with an overwhelming majority.
The billionaire frontman of Thailand’s anti-military parliamentary bloc is set to hear a controversial ruling on Wednesday that could see him banned from politics and jailed for up to 10 years.
The former head of a budget Thai airline goes on trial in Paris on Monday over a deadly 2007 plane crash that killed 90 people, nearly two-thirds of them foreigners.
Thai opposition party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit called for a peaceful protest on Saturday after asking supporters to mobilise in the face of a possible ban on his Future Forward party.
Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah will not be granting an audience to anyone for a week as he is under observation at a hospital, a palace official said on Friday, as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim seeks a meeting with him to form a new government.
South Korea says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has apologised over the killing of a South Korea official. South Korea’s presidential office said on Friday that Kim conveyed an apology in a message to South Korea.
The hashtag #RepublicofThailand trended on Twitter in Thailand on Friday after parliament voted to push back the question of changing the constitution as protesters have demanded.
France has dismissed this week’s dire British warnings about post-Brexit transport delays across the Channel as tactical posturing, the Financial Times reported on Friday. “Of course the signals that have been sent in the past few days are damaging,”