Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thaksin’s lawyer steadfast in his support despite threats


AFTER lawyer Noppadon Pattama received the intelligence report from a reliable source in a Thai government security agency, his client provided him with three bodyguards and a bullet-proof car.

The source told Noppadon on Jan 7 that unless he quit as ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s legal adviser, his life would be in danger.

Since becoming Thaksin’s legal adviser in October, the 45-year-old lawyer found instant fame in Thailand, speaking on behalf of his client “to provide explanations and facts.”

Verbal abuses and death threats came along with fame.

However, he ignored them, thinking they came from people with mental problems or who disliked Thaksin.

Nevertheless, in December, he changed his handphone number as the threats got to him.

“I was depressed around that time,” he disclosed. “I couldn’t understand why in a civilised world when you disagree with someone, you couldn’t debate it, instead of making death threats.”

Then, early this month, he received a warning about an attempt on his life.

This time he took the death threat seriously as it came from someone well connected.

“And around that time the situation regarding the ex-PM was getting intense,” he explained, referring to the accusation that Thaksin was behind the New Year's Eve co-ordinated bombings that ripped Bangkok, killing three Thais.

Concerned, Thaksin advised his lawyer to take the intimidation gravely, and facilitated security measures for him.

It is not unusual to receive death threats in Thailand.

“Sometimes the killing occurs, sometimes it doesn’t. You never know,” Noppadon said. “Somchai disappeared and we don’t know what happened to him.”

He was referring to prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit who went missing on March 12, 2004, after disclosing that police had tortured his clients.

On Thursday, in an interview in a Starbucks cafe along Rachadapisek Road in Bangkok, a jovial Noppadon revealed that he was feeling safe now. But it was not because of his security personnel.

“I can sense that national reconciliation is on the way. And the top generals are no longer hostile to the idea of Thaksin returning home subject to certain conditions,” he explained, as his inconspicuous bodyguards lurked in the shadow.

The British-educated divorcé peppered the interview with his funny remarks; for example, “Seriously, I do have a bullet-proof car. But I hope it is also bomb proof” and “Now I change the place where I sleep but I still retain the same sleeping partner.”

He can sleep better now. For the last two weeks he has not received any death threat.

Threat or not, Noppadon does not regret taking the job, which he described as an honour and a “once in a lifetime experience.”

He accepted it to repay a debt of gratitude to Thaksin who appointed him natural resources and environment vice-minister shortly after the Bangkok MP switched from the Democrat Party to Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT).

“I never abandon my friends during hard times,” said the protégé of Thai former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, who is the Democrat Party adviser.

Probably Thaksin has no regrets hiring Noppadon as a Thai newspaper described him as “smart enough to comment on Thaksin-related issues to ensure the continuation of the former premier's news shelf life.”

On Jan 10, the Council for National Security (the official name of the coup makers) ordered broadcast media to cease airing views defending Thaksin and the TRT party.

“It is unfair. When the government makes an allegation against my client, I don’t have the same tool to counter it,” protested the lawyer.

Asked how Thaksin was doing, Noppadon, with a cheeky grin, said, “unemployed but happy.”

“Thaksin is in Tokyo. Last night (Wednesday) he had sushi and Kobe beef. And he is flying to Beijing tomorrow (yesterday),'' he revealed.

On why Thaksin visited Thailand’s neighbours – China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore – he said: “Now that he is unemployed, he wants to take the opportunity to travel, play golf, shop and meet up with old friends.”

Noppadon is not aware of any plan by Thaksin to visit his good friend Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia.

“You should develop a good golf course, and he will visit Malaysia,” he quipped.

(Published in The Star on Jan 27, 2007. Photograph courtesty of The Nation)