Friday, August 25, 2017

Yingluck trial: Thai ex-PM fails to show for verdict


Former Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra has failed to show up for the verdict in her trial over a controversial rice subsidy scheme.
Lawyers for Ms Yingluck, who is charged with negligence, said she was ill.
But the Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant for her and has delayed the verdict to 27 September.
She has denied any wrongdoing in the scheme which cost billions of dollars. If found guilty, she faces jail and a lifetime ban from politics.
The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says the military government had tried to prevent or discourage Ms Yingluck's supporters from coming to the court for fear of an angry reaction should she be convicted and imprisoned.
Her failure to turn up for the verdict now presents the authorities with another dilemma - sending police to arrest her might also provoke unrest, says our correspondent.
On Friday Ms Yingluck's lawyer requested a delay in the ruling, telling the court that she had vertigo and was unable to attend.
But an official Supreme Court statement said prosecutors "do not believe the defendant is indeed ill as there is no medical certificate, and the condition that she claimed is not so severe that she cannot travel to the court".
The court said it was issuing the arrest warrant out of fear she may flee the country. It also confiscated the $900,000 (£703,000) bail she posted at the start of the trial.
The immigration police chief told Reuters that he believed she was still in Thailand, as he had no information showing she had left.
However, when asked by the BBC whether she was still in the country, Ms Yingluck's lawyer Norrawit Larlaeng said: "I don't know. I don't know."
Supporters of ousted former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra wait for her at the Supreme Court in Bangkok, Thailand, 25 August 2017.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMs Yingluck still enjoys popular support
Ms Yingluck, who became Thailand's first female prime minister in 2011, was impeached in 2015 over the rice scheme by a military-backed legislature, which also brought on the legal case.
But she remains popular. Hundreds of her supporters turned up outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok on Friday, amid a heavy police presence.
The rice scheme, which was part of Ms Yingluck's election campaign platform, launched in 2011 shortly after she took office.
It was aimed at boosting farmers' incomes and alleviating rural poverty, and saw the government paying farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crop.
But it hit Thailand's rice exports hard, leading to a loss of at least $8bn (£6.25bn) and huge stockpiles of rice which the government could not sell.
Though popular with her rural voter base, opponents said the scheme was too expensive and open to corruption.
During her trial, Ms Yingluck had argued she was not responsible for the day-to-day running of the scheme. She has insisted she is a victim of political persecution.

Timeline of Yingluck's rice scheme controversy

May 2011- Yingluck Shinawatra is elected PM, and shortly afterwards begins rolling out her rice subsidy scheme.
January 2014 - Thailand's anti-corruption authorities investigate Ms Yingluck in connection to the scheme.
May 2014 - She is forced to step down from her post after Thailand's constitutional court finds her guilty of abuse of power in another case. Weeks later the military ousts what remains of her government.
January 2015 - An army-backed legislature impeaches Ms Yingluck for corruption over her role in the rice scheme, which effectively bans her from politics for five years. It also launches legal proceedings against her.
August 2017 - Ms Yingluck fails to appear at court for the verdict, claiming ill health.

Ms Yingluck's time in office was overshadowed by controversy as well as strong political opposition.
The youngest sister of tycoon and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck was seen by her opponents as a proxy for her brother, who was controversially ousted by the military in 2006.
Both siblings remain popular among the rural poor, but are hated by an urban and middle-class elite.
Their Pheu Thai party has - under various different names - won every election in Thailand since 2001.