THAKSIN’S WEALTH ,Down to his last $500 million?

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Former PM hit by global slowdown, so $2 billion frozen in Thai banks is now more important

Ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was believed to have $5 billion of overseas assets in nominal value as stock markets were peaking, oil was trading at US$140 a barrel and Middle East real estate was going up every day. But, with the collapse of the global financial markets and the commodity prices, Thaksin’s core money is now believed to be worth not more than US$500 million.

“By my calculations, the core money is not worth much more than US$500 million at today’s liquidation value, and Thaksin’s capacity to hold on to the debt is diminishing fast, by the day. So, in brief, his net worth has declined from a notional figure of US$5 billion to the present value of US$500 million,” said the international financier, who asked not to be named.

Much worse, the UK government has frozen about US$4.2 billion in assets believed to belong to ex-prime minister Thaksin shortly after it revoked his and Khunying Pojaman Shinawatra’s visas in November, according to local and international money managers.

The UK authorities normally give the “beneficiary owners” of the frozen assets six months to step forward to declare ownership. If the authorities are satisfied with the evidence, they release the assets back to the beneficiary owners.

Earlier, Arabian-business.com (see the link www.arabianbusiness.com/539714-catch-me-if-you-can) reported that the UK has frozen $4 billion of Thaksin’s assets. “The UK froze his reputed $4bn of assets, forcing him to sell Manchester City to Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour. To add to his troubles, his UK visa was revoked – oh, and his wife divorced him last week,” the Arabianbusiness report said.

Yet so far nobody has come out to confirm or deny this report.

Of the US$4.2 billion being frozen by the UK authorities, US$1.4 billion represents Thaksin’s core money, plus US$40 million in futures trading margin, US$300 million in Swiss bank core money excluding margin money and US$300 million core money in Dubai. The rest is debt.

Thaksin’s real problem, however, is to prove that the source of money in the UK and Switzerland is credible, without which a big chunk of his assets will be frozen for quite a while. Having too many offshore companies with bearer shares is not helping matters in an environment where he has been convicted and jumped bail.

“At the moment, the situation is rather complicated for Thaksin because all the frozen assets are under nominee names. He has been using 20 to 25 offshore companies for financial transactions, including two major Swiss banks and three private banks in Geneva,” said the international money manager, who has followed the Manchester City Football Club deal closely.

Parts of Thaksin’s frozen money also represent margin loans provided by the Swiss banks, which are also trying to sort out the legal problems to get the money back, he added.

Other assets are invested in oil, rice and gold futures trading, in new condo buildings in Dubai and other portfolio investments. The total contracts of his oil, rice and gold future trading exceeded $450 million in face value. They are now at risk of being liquidated because of the adverse market conditions.

“Also, I was told by Adnan Khashoggi’s people in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that the huge investment in new condo buildings in the Gulf is at risk of being wiped out since it was loaded with bank debt. Total outlay is in excess of $1.2 billion, though the loss (if materialised) will probably be about $250-$300 million,” said the international financier.

Another $550-million portfolio believed to belong to Thaksin is being managed by the two major Swiss banks and three private banks in Geneva and is also doing badly. Without proper risk-insurance coverage, the value of this portfolio has declined significantly, he added.

He said: “I believe Thaksin now has only $500 million left. So the Thai assets [Bt76 billion] are now very critical to him. Khunying Pojaman’s return to Thailand is primarily aimed at protecting this final piece of their assets. Thaksin is also weighing the possibility of returning to Thailand himself to reclaim the Thai assets, which have become very critical to him.”

A Thai businessman by the name of “Phairoj P” has been acting as a front man on Thaksin’s behalf in making the dubious money transfers into the UK.

“Phairoj was a surrogate in helping Thaksin to acquire the football club. When only 10,000 pounds of (Bt508,000) was transferred into Phairoj’s bank account, the UK authorities asked him where the money came from but he could not give a satisfactory answer. That led the UK authorities to mount a series of assets freezes. Phairoj, too, is facing trouble with the UK authorities,” said a local banker, who asked not to be named. “But I have not heard anything much beyond that. I only know that he has lots of money overseas.”

The UK authorities started to focus their attention on the high-profile Thaksin when he announced his buy-out of Manchester City in 2007. Since Thaksin was from Thailand and had taken refuge in London after being ousted from office by a military coup in September 2006, his money transferred into the UK should have come from Thai banks or Thai companies.

As it turned out, the UK authorities found out that Thaksin’s money – virtually all under other nominee names – came from offshore companies located in such places as Guernsey or Isle of Man and directly from the Swiss banks. Thaksin altogether invested more than 200 million pounds, including the cost of buying the players, in the football club. That huge investment prompted the UK authorities to launch an investigation into the trail of the money transfers and eventually nail Thaksin and his wife with the revocation of their visas.

Much worse, over the past two years, Thaksin has been actively making business deals that have turned sour to the extent that he is now desperate to reclaim his frozen assets in Thailand.

“Before Thaksin had more money in the overseas than his Bt76 billion frozen in Thailand. He could just easily walk away from his Thai assets. But now most of his overseas investment has been blown away. He has lost his money badly in the futures trading. My good guess is that he has only in the Bt10-billion range left. So he is rather desperate to try to get hold of his frozen assets in Thailand. But that will not be easy now,” said a local money manager who has extensive experience in international finance.

“Thaksin is bound to lose money in his investment because he only looks at the upside gains and never knows when to stop,” he added.

On Wednesday, Thai Rath, a local mass daily, hinted that Thaksin might decide to fly into Thailand soon in order to salvage his sagging political base, with the defection of Newin Chidchob, the political kingmaker, and the possibility of the breaking apart of the Pheu Thai Party.

Thaksin’s whereabouts has been kept secret. But he is now believed to be operating out of Delhi as his headquarters.

“Interestingly, Thaksin appears to have strong links with India via a powerful agent in Delhi. He has established a base there and, in my view, that connection will prove his strongest international connection. It is close to Thailand, it is where he has the freedom to operate politically, it is a free-wheeling money market/investment climate and I guess no extradition treaty with Thailand,” the international financier said.

THE NATION

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