August 30, 2023
BANGKOK – Well-informed Pheu Thai sources said on Tuesday that Pichit Chuenban, a lawyer known to be most trusted by Thaksin and his family, has been given the post of PM’s Office minister as part of the “Shinawatra quota”.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, so far, has declined to provide details of his first Cabinet line-up to the public, though he has said it has been finalised and will be submitted for royal endorsement in a few days after scrutiny by the Cabinet Secretariat.
Pichit, meanwhile, is known to be very close and trusted by the Shinawatra family.
He made the headlines in June 2008 when he led Thaksin’s legal defence team. He and two legal advisers were slapped with a six-month jail term when the Supreme Court held them responsible for the 2-million-baht cash found wrapped in a paper grocery bag in the court’s compound in early June 2008.
Pichit claimed he knew nothing about the cash and thought it was a snack box. He was seen handing the so-called “snack box” over to court clerks when Thaksin and his then-wife Potjaman Na Pombejra were due to appear in the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office. Thaksin faced the charge of abusing his authority to buy a coveted Ratchadapisek land plot at a price far lower than its market value.
The case prompted the Law Society of Thailand to disqualify Pichit as a licensed lawyer, suspending him from work for five years.
Thaksin was later tried in absentia and sentenced to two years in jail on October 25, 2008.
Meanwhile, not long after returning from prison, Pichit became a party-list MP for Pheu Thai Party. He played a leading role in trying to push for the enactment of a blanket amnesty bill, that would have secured Thaksin’s freedom. However, Pichit’s attempts to push this bill through became a cause for protests that eventually led to the 2014 coup, which overthrew Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.
Pichit was also once head of the legal defence team that represented former PM Yingluck.
Yingluck fled Thailand before the court sentenced her to five years in jail over criminal negligence related to the rice price guarantee scheme.
In 2019, Pichit began chairing the legal advisory panel of the Thai Raksa Chart Party before the party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court.
Sources believe he is eligible for the post of PM’s Office minister because he was only flung behind bars for six months as part of a court order, not a conviction.
Hence, sources say, Pichit cannot be considered constitutionally unqualified for a Cabinet seat.