Yingluck trial: Former PM 'flees Thailand' ahead of trial verdict

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Ousted former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled the country, sources close to her said on Friday, after she failed to show up for the verdict in her trial.

“She has definitely left Thailand,” the source, who is a member of her party, told Reuters.

He declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of Ms Yingluck. Another source confirmed that she had gone.

The country’s Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for the former premier earlier on Friday while Thailand’s military ruler, who ousted her three years ago, said a manhunt had been launched.

The court was set to rule on charges that Yingluck was negligent when she oversaw a rice subsidy scheme that cost the state billions of dollars.

Thousands of the former PM’s supporters gathered outside the court while police stood guard – but Yingluck never appeared, and a judge read a statement saying her lawyers claimed she had an earache.

Supporters of former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra wait for her at the Supreme Court (REUTERS)

A judge said that the court would not accept the reason since there was no medical evidence as it issued an arrest warrant, seized her bail of £703,000, and postponed the verdict until September 27.

The ex-PM’s absence fuelled immediate speculation that she could have left the country. 

Speaking at a nearby event on Friday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the military chief who toppled Yingluck’s government in a 2014 coup, said her whereabouts were not yet known.

“Police are informed, (but) there’s nothing yet,” he said. “We’re still looking for her.”

Her lawyer could not be reached for comment. 

Yingluck has said she is not guilty of the charge and that the case is politically motivated. 

Her trial is the latest stage of a decade-long struggle by the nation’s elite minority to crush the powerful political machine founded by Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup.

Thousands of police were present to control crowds as Thailand’s military ruler feared unrest (EPA)

Thaksin Shinawatra , who has lived in Dubai since fleeing a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated, has avoided commenting on his sister’s trial, apparently so as not to jeopardise her case.

Thaksin is a highly polarising figure whose overthrow triggered years of upheaval and pitted a poor, rural majority in the north that supports the Shinawatras against royalists, the military and their urban backers. 

When Yingluck’s government proposed an amnesty in 2013 that could have absolved her brother, street protests erupted that eventually led her government to fall in the 2014 coup. 

Yingluck’s lawyers said she had an earache while her supporters gathered outside the courthouse (REUTERS)

The rice subsidies, promised to farmers during the 2011 election, helped Yingluck’s party ascend to power and were criticised by her opponents as a form of vote-buying.

The rice subsidy plan Yingluck oversaw paid farmers about 50 percent more that they would have made on the world market.

The hope was to drive up prices by stockpiling supplies, but other Asian producers filled the void instead, knocking Thailand from its perch as the world’s leading rice exporter. 

The current government, which is still trying to sell off the rice stockpiles, says Yingluck’s administration lost as much as $17 billion because it couldn’t export at a price commensurate with what it had paid farmers.

If convicted, Yingluck would have the right to appeal the verdict.

In a separate administrative ruling that froze her bank accounts, Yingluck was held responsible for about $1 billion of those losses – an astounding personal penalty that prosecutors argued she deserved because she ignored warnings of corruption on the programme.

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