Ex-PM 'may have fled Thailand' after failing to attend trial verdict

An arrest warrant was issued on Friday for former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who failed to appear in court on the judgment day of a rice lawsuit filed against her.

Thailand's Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Ms Shinawatra after she missed the hearing, although the politician's lawyer said she could not attend because of illness.

Supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wait for her arrival at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, in Bangkok, Thailand, 25 August 2017.

Yingluck, who was dismissed by court order as caretaker prime minister shortly before a military coup in May 2014, had been on trial for negligence in relation to a rice-subsidy scheme launched in 2011, which by some estimates incurred losses of up to 500 billion baht ($15 billion).

Before Yingluck's trial kicked off, some had speculated whether she would follow her brother's footsteps and leave the country. But she earned some political credit while serving as prime minister and became even more popular after she was toppled in the 2014 coup. For those of a more generous mindset who recognise the political can of worms the military seized, Yingluck's persistent presence will be a thorn in the side of a country in much need of political and social reform. They are now also investigating possible illegalities in her government's US$60 million compensation fund for the Red Shirts (opposition party, historically connected to Thaksin) that were tied to those killed in the brutal crackdowns in 2010. "She won't flee because she fights hard". Since then, she has been formally impeached and banned from political office for five years.

The scheme in which farmers were paid up to twice the market rate for their crops allegedly benefitted many of her supporters.

"I want those who wish to support me to listen to the news from home, to avoid risking any unexpected problems that could arise from those who have ill-intentions toward the country and all of us", she wrote, without naming anyone.

Rumours of her flight were met with understanding from supporters who lingered outside the court. But Yingluck and her aides have insisted she respects the justice system and would contest her charge to the end.

Yingluck said at the time of her overthrow said she had acted with integrity and honesty during her time in power.

Yingluck maintains her innocence, arguing that the controversial rice-pledging scheme for which she is on trial was for the benefit of farmers and the country.

Thaksin has not returned to Thailand since. It is believed he travels between homes in London, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. This political connection between Yingluck and her supporters could be put to good use had she been imprisoned.

This insistence was repeated as late as yesterday, when her lawyer Norrawit Larlaeng told reporters Yingluck would definitely be in court.

  • Tracy Klein