World

Thai junta says ousted PM Yingluck could have fled country

Former Thai PM a no-show at court, warrant out for her arrest

BANGKOK: Thailand's ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled the country, a senior party source told AFP, after she skipped a court appearance yesterday that could have seen her jailed, prompting the Supreme Court to issue a warrant for her arrest.

Thousands of supporters - outnumbered by security forces - waited from dawn for a glimpse of the ousted leader, but she did not show up. Yingluck joins her billionaire brother Thaksin in self-exile - a knock-out blow to the family and their political ambitions.

Thailand is deeply divided between the Shinawatras and their political base, which is mainly drawn from the rural poor; and royalist army-aligned elites, who loathe the clan and refuse to cede power to democratic governments.

Yingluck's government was removed by a military coup in 2014.

In a day of high drama, Yingluck ducked her court hearing for negligence over a flagship rice subsidy policy, which carried up to 10 years in prison and a life ban from politics.

"Her lawyer said she is sick and asked to delay the ruling... the court does not believe she is sick... and has decided to issue an arrest warrant," Judge Cheep Chulamon told the court, rescheduling the verdict to Sept 27.

A minister in her government was jailed hours later for 42 years in a separate trial for corruption linked to the policy.

Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-o-Cha denied knowledge of her whereabouts but ordered border checkpoints "to be stepped up", while his No. 2, Mr Prawit Wongsuwon, said it was "possible" Yingluck had fled through neighbouring Cambodia.

Requesting anonymity, the senior source in the Shinawatras' Pheu Thai Party told AFP that she left Thailand on Wednesday, adding "it's impossible she left without the military's green light".

AFP, quoting a party source, reported that she is likely to be in Singapore.

FLEE

Thaksin, who is also a former premier, fled Thailand in 2008 before he was convicted of graft and handed a two-year jail term.

The telecoms tycoon has not returned since and his Thai passport has been revoked.

He is believed to be using a Montenegrin passport to travel between homes in Dubai, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The clan had clung on in Thailand's treacherous political game for more than a decade despite two coups, deadly protests, a cascade of legal cases and huge asset seizures.

Thaksin remains a galvanising force for his party and a canny political operator.

But analysts say if both siblings are now in exile, their time in Thailand's spin dryer political arena is over.

"It is the end of the Shinawatras and the Pheu Thai Party in politics," Associate Professor Puangthong Pawakpan, a Thai politics expert at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"With two family members as fugitives, the family loses political legitimacy," she said, adding that Yingluck's departure would be welcomed by a Thai junta weary of the prospect of her political martyrdom in jail.

To many supporters, Yingluck had finally emerged from her elder brother's shadow, drawing on a star quality, which is absent among the cast of ageing generals who rule Thailand, throughout her 18-month trial.

Her rice subsidy poured cash on her family's rural political heartland, paying up to twice the market rate for the grain. But it was beset by graft and led to billions of dollars of losses.

Rumours of her flight were met with understanding from supporters outside the court.

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