Thai PM's rival to face embezzlement charges

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - A political and former business rival of Thailand's prime minister who has been charged with embezzlement said he was innocent Monday after returning from Britain and turning himself in to police. 

Police last week obtained a warrant for the arrest of Poosana Premanoch on charges of embezzling 117 million baht (US$2.7 million) from Thailand's second-biggest mobile phone operator, DTAC, which he helped found. 

"I am innocent and deny all charges,'' he told reporters. 

The alleged offense dates back to May 1999, when Poosana was managing director of Total Access Communication, later renamed DTAC. 

The company is the main rival of Advanced Info Service, the country's largest mobile phone operator and a star performer in the Shin Corp. telecommunications empire founded by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. 

The warrant was issued in response to a complaint filed April 11 by Thailand's Securities and Exchange Commission. 

If convicted, Poosana could face up to five years in jail. 

It was not clear why the complaint was filed last month, four years after the alleged offense. 

"I am ready to fight the case in court, but as you might be aware the legal process always takes time, (and will take) time to prove my innocence,'' Poosana said. 

Poosana has been tipped to be the new secretary general of the Chart Pattana party, a junior coalition partner in the government. 

But he has been at odds with Thaksin, resisting attempts to merge the party with Thai Rak Thai. 

He is also reported to have made a substantial recent donation to the opposition Democrat Party, and blasted Thaksin for issuing an executive decree imposing an excise tax on telecommunications services, saying it would benefit AIS. 

According to the SEC complaint, Poosana, former DTAC finance director Ajchara Boonsajai and another executive took 153 million baht (US$3.6 million) out of the company, ostensibly to buy land. 

However, most of the money was used to buy low-priced shares of an insurance company. 

The capital was returned to DTAC, but the three executives are accused of "unlawful gain'' by selling the shares for a profit of 117 million baht (US$2.7 million).  

The SEC says this broke laws on misuse of public company funds and also on public disclosure of substantial share sales. - AP 

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