Thai court jails banker who sparked '97 Asian crisis

Posted at 06/08/2012 6:08 PM

BANGKOK - A Thai court jailed an Indian financier for 10 years on Friday for massive embezzlement that helped bankrupt a Thai bank in the mid-1990s and spark a crisis in the financial sector that spread through Asia in 1997.

Rakesh Saxena, 59, was found guilty on five counts of securities fraud between 1992 and 1995, having siphoned off tens of millions of dollars from the now defunct Bangkok Bank of Commerce, where he was employed as an adviser.

The scandal that engulfed Bangkok Bank of Commerce caused a run on bank deposits and led to the bank's collapse, contributing to the devaluation of the baht and the regional crisis. Saxena was arrested in 1996 but was extradited from Canada only in 2009.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court heard how Saxena had set up 60 businesses in Thailand and used them to secure loans from the bank to cover debts and running costs, but instead channelled the money into personal accounts, mostly in Switzerland.

"The defendant clearly demonstrated his intention to take funds from the damaged party to invest for his own personal use, depositing the funds into several overseas accounts," the judge said in reading the verdict.

Estimates of the money he stole from the bank vary from $60 million to $82 million. The court did not give a total.

Saxena, wearing orange prison fatigues and in a wheelchair, appeared frail and confused as the sentence was passed. He was also ordered to pay 1.13 billion baht ($35.8 million) in damages and a 1 million baht fine.

He was arrested while skiing in Canada but fought off extradition attempts until three years ago, arguing that Thai investigators had no real evidence against him and that he would be tortured and killed if he was forced to return.

On Friday, he said he would not give up the fight. "We have to appeal, of course," he told reporters. "This sentence is absolutely wrong."

Saxena, who at one point tried to flee Canada on a fake passport, has been embroiled in other controversies, including allegations that he planned to finance a coup in Sierra Leone, where he was involved in diamond mining.

According to media reports in Thailand, more than two dozen fraud cases related to the Bangkok Bank of Commerce saga are still pending and embezzlement by Saxena and other executives caused losses of more than 40 billion baht.