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Media mogul sentenced to two years' imprisonment for libel

(SEAPA/IFEX) - In just two days, Thai media magnate Sondhi Limthongkul received a double whammy: he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on 10 September 2009 for libel and he lost an appeal in another libel case, earning him another six month jail term, media reports said.

In the first case, Thailand's Criminal Court found Sondhi, who is also the co-leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy, guilty of defaming former Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula during an episode of his weekly TV talk show, "Muang Thai Rai Supada" ("Thailand Weekly"), aired on 12 January 2007.

The "Bangkok Post", an English-language daily, said Sondhi was released after he posted a bail of THB200,000 (approx. US$5,880).

Co-defendant Thaiday Dot Com Co., the producer of the talk show and operator of ASTV, was also found guilty of libel due to its recording and distribution of Sondhi's statements on VCD and was fined THB200,000. Khuntong Lorseriwanich, the editor and publisher of "The Manager" newspaper, was also convicted of libel because he published Sondhi's remarks in the 13-16 January 2007 issues of his newspaper, and was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. He was also fined THB30,000 (approx. US$882).

The "Bangkok Post" reported that Sondhi accused Pridiyathorn of having a hand in the illegal sale of two- and three-digit lottery tickets, and amending the law on the Government Lottery Office (GLO) to clear 47 people, including former ministers and GLO executives.

Sondhi also alleged that Pridiyathorn, who was also finance minister at the time, protected former revenue department chief Sirote Sawasdipanich from prosecution over his failure to collect THB270 million (approx. US$7,938,000) in taxes in the 1997 Shin Corp share case.

Meanwhile, on 11 September 2009, the Appeals Court upheld a separate guilty verdict against Sondhi by the Criminal Court, in a libel case filed by former Deputy Transport Minister Phumtham Wechayachai. Phumtam was also the deputy secretary-general of the now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

The lawsuit stated that during a mobile episode of Sondhi's TV talk show at Wat Pa Ban Tad, in the Muang district of Udon Thani, on 25 November 2005, Sondhi accused Phumtham of being a member of the "October 14'' group, known for its links with communists.

The Criminal Court on 25 March 2007 convicted Sondhi of libel and sentenced him to two years' imprisonment. Programme producer Thaiday Dot Com Co. was fined THB200,000.

The Appeals Court commuted Sondhi's prison term to six months.

The "Bangkok Post" quoted Sondhi as saying that he would file appeals in these two cases.
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