Thailand's billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was released on parole on Sunday after six months in detention, his first day of freedom in his homeland 15 years after fleeing in the wake of his overthrow in a military coup.

Thailand's best-known and most polarizing leader, the influential Thaksin has loomed large over politics during the years spent mostly in self-imposed exile to dodge jail for abuse of power, charges he maintained were cooked up by the country's old guard to keep him at bay.

The 74-year-old tycoon, whose family's party is back in power, was granted parole despite having not spent a single night in prison for a sentence that had in August been commuted from eight years to one year by the country's king.