There was some buzz in the Thai media early this week when pictures of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra depicting him shaking hands with former South African president Nelson Mandela and meeting Mandela's ex-wife Winne Mandela.
The pictures were circulated by his lawyer and former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama (who is these days busy acting as his lobbyist). The resurface of Thaksin comes after over a month of silence with no tweets, no phone-in or any other public announcement. This has lead to the repeated speculation over his health or some even guessing to be plotting something.
The authenticity of the pictures are debatable and at this time no high resolution versions were published yet (with the exception of the news outlets), so of course many questioned if the the whole meeting actually took place. For example, the two head honchos at The Nation, Suthichai Yoon and Tulsathit Taptim, were musing over this extensively in their daily video, especially when Suthichai was concluding:
"We don't know why he [Thaksin] met Nelson Mandela. Whether he was invited, whether he asked to see Nelson Mandela and what was the whole purpose behind that - that is the mystery that a whole lot of people will try to solve in the next few days."
Suthichai Yoon, editor-in-chief Nation Group, in "From the newsroom", August 31, 2010
Apparently NOBODY from the Thai media has so far put some effort to solve this mystery. Has anyone actually tried to reach Mandela's office for confirmation or dismiss the visit? Well, I contacted Mandela's office and asked them 1) if there was a meeting between Thaksin and Mandela, 2) if there are any pictures or other documents made by Mandela's staff of the this meeting, 3) what the nature of the meeting was.
Here's what they answered:
Dear Mr Saksith Saiyasombut,
- There was no official meeting between Mr Thaksin and Mr Mandela. Mr Thaksin paid Mr Mandela a courtesy call when he was visiting the country.
- We do not have photographs or documents as no business was discussed and the courtesy call was during Mr Mandela’s private time. The Foundation did not take any photographs.
- Yes it was a private courtesy call.
Sello Hatang, Manager: Information Communications, Nelson Mandela Foundation
So, there we have it. Thaksin has actually met Mandela! Nevertheless the authenticity of the pictures is still unsolved.
P.S.: Dear Thai colleagues, it was not that difficult to contact Mandela's office!
UPDATE: The Canadian Press has some more details on the visit.
Emerging from weeks of silence, fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has appeared in Africa, where he says he is dealing in diamonds and visiting Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.
A photo of his meeting with the former South African president was released in Thailand by Thaksin's lawyer in an apparent move to quash rumours that the divisive ex-prime minister is ill — and to advertise that he's rubbing shoulders with VIPs abroad.
"I travel all the time. Currently, I'm in Africa for diamond mining," Thaksin told the Thai Rath newspaper in an interview published Thursday. He did not specify if he was still in South Africa. He said rumours of his failing health were "lies."
The Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg confirmed that the visit took place last Friday [August 27, 2010].
"It was not a meeting, it was a courtesy call," spokesman Sello Hatang said. He said he did not know what they discussed.
"Fugitive former Thai leader visits Africa, meets Nelson Mandela, deals in diamonds", by Jocelyn Gecker, The Canadian Press, September 2, 2010
The said interview with Thai Rath can be read here (in Thai), where also said why he quit as economical adviser to Cambodian PM Hun Sen ("I was annoyed!").