BANGKOK — A leader of the Yellowshirt movement who spent three years in prison for fraud was released Wednesday afternoon.
Sondhi Limthongkul, 72, was greeted by supporters as he walked out from Bangkok Remand Prison at 3pm on Wednesday.
The ex-media mogul, who later became a leader of the protest movement against then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was convicted for falsifying loan guarantee documents for a 1.08 billion baht loan from Krungthai Bank.
Sondhi was released earlier than scheduled due to a royal pardon granted on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s wedding. He, along with three other executives, were originally sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012, but were only jailed in 2016 after fighting through the appeals process.
Corrections Department chief Naras Savestanan said Sondhi was qualified for the pardon as he had demonstrated good behavior in prison and is more than 70 years old. However, his pardon was delayed due to a misinterpretation of a law which prevents violators of the Securities and Exchange Act from being released early.
Judges eventually granted the pardon, reasoning he was not an executive of a financial institution, who the law bars from early release.
Naras insisted the release had nothing to do with politics.
“His parole was granted after his legal situation was clarified,” Naras said. “There was no hidden agenda or order from anyone.”
Sondhi, the founder of the prominent media conglomerate Manager, fraudulently attempted to guarantee a loan in 2016 to The M Group, a company in which he held shares. The M Group later defaulted on the loan, forcing Manager Group to assume the massive debt.
Sondhi then embarked on a campaign against Thaksin Shinawatra and governments aligned with him by founding the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in 2005. The movement’s street demonstrations culminated in takeovers of key locations across Bangkok including Government House and Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
The protests eventually led to the military coup which ousted Thaksin on Sept. 19, 2006. He later announced the disbandment of the PAD in 2009. He has kept a low profile since being wounded in an ambush by unknown attackers with assault rifles. The case remains unsolved.
He was also charged for occupying the airport, but the trial against him and other Yellowshirt leaders has hardly progressed despite a decade passing.