Thai  coup leader  wants to buy back telecom company sold to Singapore

  Associated Press
February 16, 2007
BANGKOK, Thailand

THAILAND'S coup leader said Friday, Feb 16, he wants the country's largest telecommunications company returned to Thai owners, following its sale last year by the former prime minister's family to the Singapore government's investment arm.

"I want them back, especially the satellite, which is a national asset," Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin said in a speech to 2000 civil servants.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's family sold a controlling stake in Shin Corp. in January 2006 to the Singapore government-owned Temasek Holding Plc. The company includes Shin Satellite, which is the country's only satellite operator.

The US$1.9 billion (euro1.4 billion) sale of Shin Corp. prompted outrage among many Thais, who accused Thaksin of selling off key national assets to foreigners.

The controversy led to months of street protests fueled by reports that Thaksin's family had not paid any taxes on the sale. The crisis culminated in a Sept 19 military coup that ousted Thaksin and replaced him with a military-installed government.

Sonthi earlier accused Singapore of using Shin Corp to listen in on secret Thai military communications.

Sonthi refused to say how he would buy back Shin Corp, only saying repeatedly that it should be in Thai hands.

"I just want it because I have a duty to rescue the country and salvage national assets," Sonthi said. "I don't know how but I have the desire to do it."

Temasek refused to comment but the Singapore government expressed "surprise" at Sonthi's comments.

"Singapore is surprised at what Council for National Security Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin was reported to have said about getting back Thai national assets which have been sold to foreigners," the city-state's Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Friday. "We should wait for the Thai Government to clarify what those remarks meant."