January 19, 2012 / 8:43 AM / 8 years ago

Thai PM gives cabinet post to U.S. blacklisted businesswoman

BANGKOK, Jan 19 (Reuters) - A newly appointed minister in the Thai premier’s office is blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury for alleged business links to the family of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, embarrassing the government in the wake of a major cabinet reshuffle.

Nalinee Taveesin is barred from financial dealings with U.S. citizens and had her assets frozen in the country in 2008 for “secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa’s most corrupt regimes,” according to the website of the Department of Treasury (www.treasury.gov).

Nalinee, most recently the country’s trade representative, allegedly helped Mugabe’s wife, Grace, trade in gemstones, real estate and financial transactions, the U.S. Treasury said.

She denied business dealings with the Mugabe family.

“I have never traded in gemstones. I have never bought diamonds for sale. I am friends with presidents of many countries,” Nalinee told Thursday’s Bangkok Post.

“This is a case of guilt by association.”

Nalinee’s ministerial appointment on Wednesday by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was one of 10 changes, which critics said reflected cronyism and nepotism, with many allies of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra — Yingluck’s elder brother — taking cabinet posts.

It also follows strained relations between Washington and Bangkok over a warning issued by the United States on Jan. 13 about a possible terrorist attack in Thailand.

Mugabe, 87, has been in office for 32 years and has long been condemned by the United States for human rights abuses.

Washington first imposed sanctions on his government in 2002 which included an arms embargoes, a freeze on all non-humanitarian aid and travel and financial restrictions on top officials.

Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Ed Lane

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