By Ambika Ahuja
The Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) _ A fugitive, former adviser to a Thai bank whose failure caused a crisis of confidence that helped spark the 1997 Asian financial meltdown, was back in Bangkok last Saturday, Oct. 31, facing prosecution after his extradition from Canada.
Rakesh Saxena, 57, had staged one of the longest extradition battles in Canadian history to avoid being sent back to face charges. He helped embezzle $88 million from the Bangkok Bank of Commerce, which collapsed in 1995. The bank had about $3 billion in bad debt when it was shut down.
Saxena was a financial adviser to the bank, which made millions of dollars from fraudulent loans to cronies of the management. Its failure exposed the weaknesses of the Thai financial system, which had expanded meteorically with little oversight during Thailand’s booming years. This helped trigger the devastating 1997 Asian financial crisis.
The case continues to hold potential for causing trouble because those who received dodgy loans include several still-prominent politicians.
A spokesman for Thailand’s Attorney General said Saxena, an Indian national, has more than 20 cases pending against him under the Securities Exchange Act. Thailand’s statute of limitations on charges under the law will run out in July 2010.
The Thai Airways plane carrying Saxena arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport more than an hour after its scheduled 9:20 p.m. time. In the custody of Thai officials, he did not immediately appear before a swarm of waiting press, though he was seen by reporters during a transit stop in Beijing.
“We will take him to the Crime Suppression Bureau and he will receive a medical checkup because his body is quite run down,” said Sirisak Tiyapan, Director-General for International Affairs of Thailand’s Attorney General’s Office. “The doctors will decide whether he needs to be hospitalized.”
Rakesh suffered a stroke last March and uses a wheelchair.
“He is facing serious charges [for actions] which led to a crisis of confidence in Thailand,” said Sirisak, who accompanied Saxena from Vancouver. “Everything will be done according to the law, but we already consider it a success that he was sent back to face justice.”
A colorful wheeler-dealer who pioneered the aggressive use of mergers and acquisitions in Thailand, Saxena counted among his associates Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, who was involved in some of his Thai business deals.
Thai authorities originally charged Saxena in 1996. But he fled Thailand, and was arrested later that year in the British Columbia ski resort town of Whistler. He fought tenaciously against extradition, claiming he would be in danger if returned to Thailand because he could expose the wrongdoing of influential people.
His lawyers negotiated a deal under which he was allowed to stay in his own luxury apartment with guards that he was responsible for paying. He continued to carry out business deals around the globe during his detention, allegedly including the financing of an attempted coup in the African nation of Sierra Leone.
However, he was later transferred to jail from house arrest.
In 2003, then-Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon ordered Saxena to be deported to Thailand, but the fugitive financier continued to appeal the deportation order. The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday turned down his final appeal against the order, setting his extradition in motion.
Police turned out in force at the airport for Saxena’s arrival.
“We want to protect his privacy and also make sure there is enough security because he is a wanted man. We want to be careful to allay concerns about those issues,” said Police Maj. Gen. Panya Mamen, deputy chief of Central Investigation Bureau.
Politicians whose names were tied to the banking scandal include Newin Chidchob, influential head of a political faction in Thailand’s current coalition government, and Pairote Suwannachawee, husband of Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwannachawee.
Both have repeatedly denied any involvement.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose Democrat Party first revealed the scandal at the bank during a parliamentary debate, called for the legal process to proceed unhindered.
“[The government] is serious about this case … there will be no protection for those involved,” he said. “If anyone is implicated, they will have to answer to the charges.” ♦