Thailand’s billionaire ex-PM Thaksin taken to hospital on first night in jail

By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s billionaire former leader Thaksin Shinawatra was taken to hospital on his first night in prison after his historic return from self-exile, officials said on Wednesday, citing concern about his heart and blood pressure.

The influential founder of Thailand’s populist Pheu Thai Party was transferred to a police hospital overnight, 15 hours after a vaunted homecoming from 15 years abroad to avoid jail, that coincided with his political ally being elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote.

The Corrections Department said Thaksin, 74, was transferred in the early hours of Wednesday after being unable to sleep and experiencing chest tightness and high blood pressure.

“Physicians agreed that to prevent dangerous risks to his life, he be transferred to the police hospital,” it said.

Soponrat Singhajaru, a senior doctor, said Thaksin’s condition had improved since he was admitted. A representative for Thaksin declined to comment.

Thaksin, a hugely popular prime minister among many voters for pro-poor policies, was ousted in a 2006 military coup and was in self-exile two years later when he was sentenced to jail in absentia for graft and abuse of power.

His hospitalisation is the latest twist in chaotic few months in Thai politics that saw the progressive Move Forward party triumph in a May election then end up in opposition, and the populist heavyweight Pheu Thai, twice toppled by the military, agree to form a government with army-backed parties.

Thaksin returned on a private jet to cheering crowds on Tuesday before being whisked away to a court then to a jail, in dramatic scenes that stole the spotlight from fellow tycoon Srettha Thavisin, who was chosen as prime minister hours later.


The unimpeded return of Thailand’s most divisive politician and Srettha’s surprisingly smooth ascent to the top job will add to speculation that Thaksin had struck a deal with longtime enemies in the military and conservative establishment for his safe return and, possibly, an early release from jail.

Thaksin and Pheu Thai have denied that.

Srettha, a U.S.-educated property mogul, is expected to form an 11-party coalition in days ahead. Election winner Move Forward declined to back Srettha, calling his alliance with unpopular pro-military parties a betrayal of the will of the people.

After his royal endorsement, he promised to bring unity to a divided country in a televised national address.

“I will work tirelessly and listen to the people and bring unity to the country,” he said.

News of Thaksin’s struggle on his first night in prison drew mixed reactions on social media.

Some posts poked fun at his special treatment, with #VVIP a top-trending hashtag on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Some said they suspected he was in a ward on a high-floor of the hospital, one with a view of an exclusive sports club and golf course.

The hospital said there was no special treatment and it admitted prisoners regularly.

Some television news showed looped videos of Thaksin exercising in the grounds of his Dubai mansion late last year, pounding energetically at a punchbag while attempting an occasional high kick.

“I have no problem with Thaksin being treated, but I demand the same treatment for tens of thousands of inmates with high blood pressure,” Amornrat Chokpamitkul, a member of the Move Forward Party, said on X, a comment reposted 4,000 times.

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um and Chayut Setboonsarng; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)