New Thai minister on US blacklist

The Yingluck II Cabinet, announced yesterday evening, was immediately rocked by a controversy after new face Nalinee Taveesin, who was appointed PM's Office minister, was exposed as being on a United States blacklist due to her alleged business connections with Zimbabwe.

Nalinee's name was on the US blacklist of "cronies" of the much-abhorred Zimbabwean regime.

The disclosure was certain to put more strain on bilateral relations after the US Embassy's recent terrorist warning on its website upset the Thai government.

Nalinee described the issue as a mix-up.

"It was a misunderstanding on the part of the US. This happened a long time ago. I didn't do anything as alleged," she told the Krungthep Turakij newspaper.

Nalinee's qualifications to be a minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office had been checked constitutionally before the Cabinet list was submitted for His Majesty the King's approval, Cabinet secretary-general Ampon Kittiampon said yesterday.

However, Ampon said he was not aware that her name was on the list of Zimbabwean Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in November 2008.

About two decades ago, the revelation that veteran politician Narong Wongwan was on a US blacklist all but ruined his political career.

He was a prime ministerial candidate when news about the blacklist knocked him off his perch.

Robert Amsterdam, the lawyer for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, reportedly wants to compare former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe for Abhisit's alleged role in the bloody crackdown against civil disobedience last year.

The US OFAC designated in the SDN list Nalinee Joy Taveesin, then an ordinary Thai businesswoman, for her facilitation of a number of financial, real-estate and gems-related transactions on behalf of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace Mugabe and other Zimbabweans on the SDN list.

"Ironically, Nalinee Taveesin has participated in a number of initiatives on corruption and growth challenges in Africa and Southeast Asia while secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa's most corrupt regimes," according to a OFAC statement issued on November 25, 2008.

As a consequence, American citizens or entities were prohibited from doing business with her, while her assets, if they went through a US jurisdiction, would be frozen.

Zimbabwe was sanctioned by the US in 2003 for its undemocratic practices.

In 2005, an executive order by then president George W Bush expanded the list of sanction targets to include immediate family members of the designated individuals of the Zimbabwean sanctions as well as those who provide assistance to the sanctioned targets.

Nalinee said she was close to many countries' leaders, not just those governing Zimbabwe. She insisted that she did not do any illegal business overseas.

Cabinet secretary-general Ampon said he had reviewed Nalinee's |credentials for a ministerial post |and found nothing against Thai laws.

Her name was submitted together with other new ministers for His Majesty's approval, and got royal endorsement yesterday evening.

If appearing on the SDN list is not against Thai law, she is still eligible to be a minister, Ampon said.

"But if such a status is against Thai law, we have to consider the matter again," he said. "At this moment, don't make any premature conclusion."