Yingluck handed 5 years' jail

Thai Supreme Court sentences former prime minister in absentia over rice subsidy scheme

BANGKOK: Thailand's Supreme Court convicted and sentenced former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in absentia to five years in prison yesterday for mismanaging a rice subsidy scheme that cost the country billions of dollars.

Yingluck fled abroad last month fearing that the military government, set up after a coup in 2014, would seek a harsh sentence. She had faced up to 10 years in prison for negligence over the scheme, which helped get her elected in 2011.

She had pleaded innocent and accused the military government of political persecution.

Nine judges voted unanimously to find Yingluck guilty in a verdict reading that took four hours, and a warrant was issued for her arrest.

The court said Yingluck knew that members of her administration had falsified government-to-government rice deals but did nothing to stop it.

"The accused knew that the government-to-government rice contract was unlawful but did not prevent it..." it said.

"Which is a manner of seeking unlawful gains. Therefore, the action of the accused is considered negligence of duty."

A former commerce minister in her government was jailed for 42 years last month for falsifying government-to-government rice deals in connection with the subsidy scheme.

Mr Norrawit Larlaeng, a lawyer for Yingluck, told reporters outside the court that an appeal was being discussed.

Yingluck, with her brother Thaksin - also a former prime minister who was ousted by a coup - had commanded huge support by courting rural voters, helping them win every general election since 2001, but their foes accused them of corruption and nepotism.

Under the rice scheme, Yingluck's government bought rice from farmers at above-market prices, leading to stockpiles and distorted global prices.

Losses amounted to US$8 billion (S$10.8 billion), the military government has said.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party defended the scheme yesterday.

"The Puea Thai Party believes in the various schemes that the party introduced during the previous administration," party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said.

Mr Kan Yuenyong, executive director of the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank, said yesterday's sentence marked the end of Yingluck's political career.

"Politically, this is an execution for Yingluck. The verdict has effectively taken her out of politics," he said.

Director Thitinan Pongsudhirak of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University said the Puea Thai Party is now "rudderless".

"Puea Thai officially becomes rudderless and will have to regroup under new leadership. If it is not dissolved and if its leader is more compromising, then maybe Thailand can move on," he said. - REUTERS