Thai court orders ex-PM's former wife to return controversial plot of land

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court on Friday ordered the ex-wife of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return a valuable plot of land she bought from the government while her husband was the country's leader.

The Civil Court ruled that the 2003 purchase by Potjaman na Pombejra was void because it violated an anti-corruption law, so she would have to return the 5.3-hectare (13-acre) plot in a commercial area of Bangkok to the state agency from which she bought it for a refund of its 772 million baht ($25.2 million) purchase price plus interest.

The deal led to the first criminal conviction of Thaksin, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup. He was found guilty in 2008 of abusing his authority as prime minister in aiding Potjaman, then his wife, to purchase the land. He was sentenced to two years in jail, but fled abroad ahead of the verdict and remains in exile.

Potjaman was cleared of all charges.

Thaksin insists the verdict was unfair and politically motivated. Another court decision earlier this year, which he also disputes, ordered $1.4 billion of his assets seized for alleged corruption. He made much of his fortune in telecommunications before entering politics, and served as prime minister in 2001-2006.

His ouster set off a political conflict between supporters and opponents which has sometimes turned violent and has kept Thailand in a state of instability.