Factbox-Thailand’s polarising ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra

By Thomson Reuters Feb 17, 2024 | 7:10 PM

(Reuters) – Thailand’s billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was released from detention on Sunday, enjoying freedom in his country for the first time since fleeing into exile nearly 16 years ago to avoid jail.

Below are facts about the 74-year-old tycoon who has dominated Thai politics for more than two decades.


– Born in Chiang Mai in 1949, Thaksin is the great grandson of Chinese migrants. He earned a masters in criminal justice from Eastern Kentucky University, and worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. He later joined Thailand’s police and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

– Thaksin ran several failed businesses with his wife before getting his break in the 1980s leasing computers to the police. Telecoms ventures followed, including satellites and a cellphone company, and he went on to become one of Thailand’s richest men through his conglomerate Shin Corporation

– His family’s business empire thrived on government concessions while he was premier from 2001-2006, stoking public anger, including the tax-free $1.9 billion sale of its 49% stake in Shin Corp to a Singapore state firm.

– An urban protest movement against Thaksin grew, backed by powerful conservatives, generals and the royalist establishment, culminating in a coup in 2006 while he was abroad. A slew of graft probes were launched into his family’s “unusual wealth”.

– Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 and was convicted in absentia of abuse of power in helping his wife buy real estate while premier. In 2010, a court seized $1.4 billion worth of Shinawatra assets, concluding Thaksin had concealed his Shin Corp shareholdings and tailored policy to benefit his business.

– In 2003, he expressed interest in buying English Premier League football club Fulham and a year later made an unsuccessful bid for a 30% stake in Liverpool, intending to finance it with Thailand’s state lottery. In 2007, he bought Manchester City for $164 million but sold the club a year later.

– Thaksin continued to invest while in exile in Dubai and Britain, including in mining concessions in three African countries and real estate in Montenegro, where he has citizenship. He currently has a net worth of $2 billion, according to Forbes.


– Thaksin is founder of the Thai Rak Thai populist political juggernaut that won most seats in five of the past six parliamentary elections, two in landslides. Thai Rak Thai and its successor, the People Power Party, were dissolved by courts and its latest incarnation, Pheu Thai, leads the current government.

– The Shinawatras’ base is the urban and rural poor, millions of who remain loyal to Thaksin as a mould-breaking premier dedicated to the working classes. His parties’ populist programmes included cheap micro loans, utilities subsidies, cash handouts, price guarantees for farmers and universal healthcare.

– While in exile, Thaksin mobilised supporters to take on his enemies as the figurehead of a “red shirt” protest movement, whose crippling demonstrations turned into rioting in 2009 and a 10-week blockade of downtown Bangkok in 2010 that led to clashes with security forces and the deaths of 91 people.

– Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was also prime minister and suffered an almost identical fate as him. Yingluck’s government was ousted in a 2014 coup and she was convicted of negligence over a rice subsidy scheme that cost Thailand billions of dollars. She is currently in self-exile.

– Thaksin’s youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 37, is Pheu Thai party leader and eligible to become prime minister. The current premier is Shinawatra ally, real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin.

– Thaksin was given a rock star reception on his homecoming in August to serve an eight-year jail term for abuse of power and conflicts of interest, coinciding with Srettha becoming prime minister the same day. On his first night in prison, Thaksin was moved to a hospital on health grounds. His jail term was commuted to one year by the king. In February, he was released on parole having served six months.

(Compiled by Martin Petty; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)