Thailand’s ousted PM Yingluck has ‘fled country’ ahead of verdict

Ousted Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled the country ahead of a verdict against her in a negligence trial brought by the junta that overthrew her, sources close to the Shinawatra family said on Friday.

“She has definitely left Thailand,” said one source, who is also a member of her Puea Thai Party. The sources did not say where she had gone.

Yingluck faced up to 10 years in prison for alleged negligence over a rice-buying scheme, which cost the country billions of dollars. The court has set a new date for the verdict of September 27.

“It is possible that she has fled already,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters. He later said police were investigating reports that she had left via Koh Chang, an island close to the Cambodian border. However, Cambodian immigration police said she had not entered their country.

She was ousted by a military coup in 2014 — had been barred from leaving Thailand without court approval since 2015, when her trial started. Her bail of 30 million baht ($900,000), posted when the trial began more than two years ago, has been confiscated.

The rice subsidy program, introduced in 2011, pledged to pay farmers well above the market rate for their crop, and ended up costing the country $8 billion. But critics said it wasted large amounts of public funds trying to please rural voters, hurting exports and leaving the government with huge stockpiles of rice it couldn’t sell without losing money.

Yingluck said the rice subsidy scheme was “beneficial for the farmers and the country” and that claims it lost money were wrong and motivated by political bias against her.

Yingluck last commented on social media on Thursday, saying on her Facebook page that she would not be able to meet supporters at court because of tight security.

Hundreds of her supporters had gathered outside the court on Friday where about 4,000 police had been deployed. Some held roses while others wore white gloves with the word “love” on them.

If Yingluck has fled it would disappoint her supporters and make her opponents feel vindicated, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University. “It does not help with Thailand’s division and polarization,” he said. “The military government have been suppressing dissent and suppressing demonstrations. (Her supporters are) fanned out over the country so it is hard for them to mobilize.”

“If she has fled people would not trust her, but the masses would still support her because they benefited from her policies,” 38-year-old delivery man Sakunchai Muenlamai.

 

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