Government officials on Thursday denied claims that a Cambodian passport was issued to former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who reportedly used it to register a company in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong-based English language South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Wednesday reported Hong Kong media as suggesting Yingluck may have used a Cambodian passport when fleeing Thailand in August 2017.
Senior officials in the Thai military government claim Yingluck jumped bail and left the country via Cambodia, a claim Phnom Penh denies.
Yingluck used a Cambodian passport to register as the director of PT Corporation Co on August 24, 2018, almost a year after she fled prosecution in Thailand, SCMP reported.
It cited corporate filings in the Hong Kong Companies Registry that are available to public scrutiny.
Media reports said that four months later, Yingluck became the chairwoman of Shantou International Container Terminal (SICT), a port operator based in China’s Guangdong province.
The Post’s enquiries to SICT went unanswered.
‘Against Cambodian law’
General Mao Chandara, the director-general of the Identification Department at Ministry of Interior at the time, told The Post on Thursday that Cambodia has never issued a passport to Yingluck.
“We don’t know whether it is fake or not, but we never issue passports to foreigners,” he said, explaining that doing so is against Cambodian law.
He said a passport can only be issued to foreigners who have been naturalised via a Royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni.
“Who in the world doesn’t know that Yingluck is a Thai national and a former Prime Minister of Thailand? How could she use a Cambodian passport to register for a company as a Cambodian citizen? We don’t know what is happening in this story,” he said.
Khieu Sopheak, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, suggested the passport was fake, while Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the Ministry of Interior had searched the list of passports that have been issued and did not find Yingluck’s name.
“I received confirmation from the Ministry of Interior. It said that it checked the list [of issued passports] and did not find [Yingluck’s] name. I reiterate that no such passport was found on the list, he said,” he said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Ket Saphann did not respond to The Post’s questions.
‘Hard to believe’
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the media reports of Yingluck’s Cambodian passport could be without basis or the passport concerned was fake.
“First, it is hard to believe the foreign media because sometimes they report stories without basis."
“I raise the example of Asia Times, which reported that China is building a naval base in Cambodia, in Koh Kong province. But in reality, we don’t have such a base,” he said.
A second possibility, he said, could be that Yingluck obtained a Cambodian passport from outside the official system.
He gave the example of an incident in 1998 when Chinese nationals were found holding Cambodian passports which were not listed in the government’s system.
“So it could come out from collusion with [a corrupt] official who issued the passport for Yingluck secretly for his personal gain,” he said.
The Thai Supreme Court sentenced the first female prime minister in Thailand’s history to five years in prison for mishandling a rice subsidy scheme which reportedly cost Cambodia’s neighbour at least $8 billion.
She and her supporters say the case was politically motivated.
Yingluck served as Thai prime minister from 2011 to 2014 before being ousted from government by the constitutional court.
The Shinawatra family, like many of Thailand’s super-rich, can trace their lineage to China’s Guangdong province, where the SICT port operator Yingluck is reportedly chairwoman of, is based.
The family regularly make trips to their ancestral village there, as well as neighbouring Hong Kong, AFP reported.
Yingluck and her billionaire brother Thaksin were both elected prime minister of Thailand but were toppled in coups – Thaksin in 2006 and Yingluck in 2014.
Thaksin is wanted in Thailand over a separate corruption conviction he also says was politically motivated.