Blacklisted Businesswoman, Red Shirt Leader Join Thai Cabinet

Posted January 18th, 2012 at 1:20 pm (UTC-5)
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A woman blacklisted in the United States over business dealings with the wife of Zimbabwe ruler Robert Mugabe is one of two controversial new appointees to Thailand's ruling cabinet.

The other is a former leader of the Red Shirt movement who faces terrorism charges over a two-month protest that ended with dozens of deaths in 2010.

Former businesswoman Nalinee Thaveesin and activist Nattawut Saikua are among 10 new members named Wednesday to the cabinet of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Six others, including the defense minister, were shifted to new positions.

Nalinee, who was named as minister for the prime minister's office, had already been serving as Thailand's trade representative ahead of reports Wednesday about her blacklisting in the United States.

The reports say Nalinee was identified in 2008 as a crony of Mr. Mugabe because of financial, real-estate and gem-related transactions on behalf of the president's wife, Grace Mugabe. Her inclusion on the list means U.S. citizens are barred from doing business with her.

A local newspaper quoted Nalinee as saying the blacklisting was the result of a “misunderstanding” and that she had not done the things she is accused of.

Controversy was also sparked by the appointment of Nattawut to serve as deputy agriculture minister. The stirring orator was a key leader of the 2010 anti-government protests which ended in a military crackdown with more than 90 people dead.

The Red Shirts supported former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by the military in a 2006 coup. The current prime minister, elected last year, is Mr. Thaksin's sister.

Several of the Red Shirt leaders have been charged with terrorism because of fire bombings and attacks on security forces during the protests.