BANGKOK – Thailand's Supreme Court issued arrest warrants Monday for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife after they failed to appear at a hearing on corruption charges and fled to London, saying they could not get justice in their homeland.
Thaksin, who failed to return from a trip to China where he attended the opening ceremony for the Olympics, said he and his family would live in England.
The former leader, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup, claimed he was being persecuted.
"What happened to me, my family and my close associates is the result of a desire to get rid of me politically," he said in a three-page handwritten statement that was read on state-run television and faxed to various media outlets.
Thaksin's lawyers and spokesmen did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
In addition to issuing arrest warrants for Thaksin and his wife Pojaman, the Supreme Court ordered them to forfeit bail totaling $389,000.
Thaksin faces a slew of court cases and investigations into alleged corruption and abuse of power during his five years in office. In his statement, he insisted he was innocent of all accusations against him.
Thailand's stock market closed 1.8 percent higher amid hopes that Thaksin's departure would defuse political tensions between his supporters and opponents. Political uncertainty has contributed to a 19 percent fall in the index since regular anti-government protests began in late May.
Thaksin charged that there was "interference in the judicial process and the obvious use of a double standard" in the cases against him.
Thaksin's supporters say the courts are carrying out a vendetta against him on behalf of his opponents, while his critics say they are just exercising their independent role.
Analysts said Thaksin's decision to reside in England did not mean the end of his extensive influence.
"He is certainly going to use his foreign base to influence Thailand's domestic politics," said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "This is certainly not the end."
Although his departure could reduce short-term political tension, "there may be a serious conflict in the long run that results in extreme violence if some decide they cannot rely on the judiciary for justice," he said.
The key anti-Thaksin group, the People's Alliance for Democracy, said it would continue its street protests until the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is removed from office. It regards Samak as a proxy for Thaksin, who has been banned from politics until 2012.
Thaksin "still has influence over this government and is pulling the strings," said Piphop Thongchai, a PAD leader.
Thaksin and his wife left Thailand last week after the court gave them permission to attend the Olympic Games but ordered them to report Monday. They reportedly flew from China to England, where the former leader owns several properties and the Manchester City football club.
Thaksin lived in exile in London after his ouster and returned to Thailand earlier this year to face the corruption charges against him after his political allies won elections and formed a new government.
"I thought I would be able to prove my innocence and receive justice, which is why I returned to Thailand on Feb. 28. But the situation has deteriorated," Thaksin said in the statement.
On July 31, the criminal court found his wife guilty on charges of evading millions of dollars in taxes and sentenced her to three years in prison. She was released on bail.
Monday's Supreme Court hearing involved charges of abuse of authority and corruption for Pojaman's 2003 purchase of a valuable plot of land in Bangkok at a favorable price from a state agency. The court earlier said it would deliver a verdict Sept. 16.
Three other cases against Thaksin have gone to court, and many others are under investigation.
Thai prosecutors said they are discussing the possibility of asking for Thaksin's extradition.
A British Home Office spokeswoman said it would not comment on individual immigration cases.
Speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy, she said criminal indictment in another country "wouldn't necessarily affect someone's immigration status."
Thaksin was widely regarded as an authoritarian figure who eroded Thailand's still-fragile democratic institutions. Mass street protests led to his ouster in the military coup.
However, he was highly popular with the country's rural masses and urban poor for his populist policies, and was elected with landslide victories.