Thai ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra sentenced to 5 years jail in absentia

27 Sep 2017


Tailand's deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra who is believed to have fled to Cambodia and flown via Singapore to Dubai, has now been sentenced to five years in jail in absentia.

Thailand's supreme court delivered the guilty verdict in a case related to money-losing rice subsidy scheme, in absentia on Wednesday, a month after she fled the country.

The supreme court has found the former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of negligence and sentenced her to five years in prison, in absentia.

Yingluck, whose elected government was overthrown in 2014 by the army generals who still control the kingdom, had denied allegations relating to a mishandled and costly rice subsidy scheme.

The verdict was due to be delivered on 25 August but Yingluck shocked the nation, and thousands of supporters who had gathered at the court, by failing to show up.

Her lawyer cited an ear problem as the reason for her no-show. However, the court rejected the excuse and delayed the verdict, later issuing an arrest warrant. The junta chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, ordered border checks to be increased.

Yingluck's exact whereabouts are unknown, although senior sources in her opposition Puea Thai party said she fled to Cambodia and flew via Singapore to Dubai.

Her whereabouts are still secret as she has made no public comments since she left Thailand.

Some people believe she may be in London, where her family owns a residence.

However, it is clear that her escape has been made possible with help by several police officers.

Authorities are conducting DNA sampling from a Toyota Camry with fake number plates that she allegedly escaped in, with results due in a month's time. Investigators believe that at least two cars, both a similar colour, were used in the getaway. One car was as a decoy, they say.

Three senior police officers have been detained for questioning, including a police colonel who worked in eastern Thailand.

On the eve of the verdict on Wednesday, Prayuth said he knew where Yingluck had fled to, but would not reveal the location until after the judgment was delivered.

''I know, but I won't say yet,'' he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting. ''I'll tell you where she is after 27 September. I have spies.''

Many people suspect military leaders cut a deal with Yingluck. While the politician can avoid jail time by being abroad, her departure also leaves the country without its most prominent opposition figure, handing power-hungry generals a headless opposition. The junta has repeatedly delayed elections and sought to stamp out dissent.

Coup leaders may also have wanted to avoid putting Yingluck behind bars, a situation that could have led to a resurgence of anger from her poor, rural base.

Paul Chambers, an expert on Thai politics, said: ''By getting Yingluck out of Thailand, the military gets rid of a potential thorn in their side who could become a martyr if jailed, or a powerful politician again if she is not.''

The Shinawatra family is a hugely influential political dynasty, winning every election it has taken part in since 2001, but is hated by many in the royalist and military elite in Bangkok. Yingluck's billionaire brother, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a 2008 prison sentence for corruption.

The rice subsidy scheme, which paid farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crop, was seen by Yingluck's foes as handing billions of dollars to her voter base as well as creating unsold mountains of rotten rice. Losses amounted to more than £6bn, according to the government.

Prosecutors alleged that the expensive rice programme was susceptible to corruption, although Yingluck is not accused of graft.

The fallout of the scandal led to violent street protests in 2013-14 that eventually overthrew Yingluck's administration. The former leader, whose supporters called themselves the redshirts, has said she is the victim of ''a subtle political game''.

A military-backed legislature found Yingluck guilty in a separate impeachment case in 2015, and banned her from politics for five years.

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