16 Feb 2007

Thailand's Sondhi Wants Assets Back From Singapore

By Anuchit Nguyen and Beth Jinks

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand's military leader said he wants to take back control of 140 billion baht ($3.9 billion) of assets sold to Singapore's government, escalating a diplomatic spat between the Southeast Asian nations.

``Singapore is a very small country, but it is so rich that it can buy 140 billion baht of our national assets,'' said Sondhi Boonyarataklin, who led a September coup that toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. ``I am thinking about whether we can take those assets back.''

Singapore's Temasek Holdings Pte last year bought control of Thaksin's mobile phone and satellite group, provoking an outcry against the sale of strategic companies to a foreign government. Sondhi last month accused Singapore of using those assets for spying, a charge the city-state has denied.

``I thought things had calmed down on the subject, but this does suggest that maybe things took a turn for the worse,'' said David Cohen, a Singapore-based economist at Action Economics. ``It is difficult to anticipate which direction the politics in Thailand would go right now.''

The sale of Shin Corp., the holding company founded by Thaksin, angered Thais because the billionaire businessman's family didn't pay tax on the proceeds. The deal exacerbated protests and a political stalemate in Thailand that led to Thaksin's ouster in the Sept. 19 coup.

Business Decision

Many Thais were also concerned at Singapore's involvement in the transaction, even though Temasek and its parent, the Ministry of Finance, said the 33-year old company made the investment as a pure business decision and not at the direction of the city- state's government.

Temasek's Chief Executive Officer, Ho Ching, is the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

to continue reading...