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Former Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra has 'fled country' ahead of trial verdict

Posted August 24
Updated August 25

Thailand's Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant for former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra after she failed to appear in court to hear the verdict in her two-year negligence trial.

Yingluck's lawyer Norawit Larleang told the court Friday that she was ill and could not attend the hearing, but did not provide a medical certificate, leading the court to refuse the excuse. He later told CNN that he didn't know whether the former prime minister was in Thailand or outside the country.

Her bail money of 30 million baht ($900,000), posted when the trial began more than two years ago, has been confiscated.

The former Thai leader faces 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.

Official: No indication former PM has fled country

The country's top immigration official said there were no records of Yingluck having left the country through proper immigration channels.

However, Police Lt. Gen. Natthathorn Prohsoonthorn said he could not confirm if she was still in Thailand or not.

Yingluck has been barred from leaving the country without court approval since 2015, when her trial started.

Yingluck to CNN in 2016: 'I've never thought of fleeing'

In 2016, Yingluck spoke to CNN for her first interview since being removed from power two years before.

In it, she maintained her innocence and said that the rice scheme was purely to help farmers. She expressed disbelief that the prosecution would happen at the executive level.

"I am not sure but I think I'm the first and only person to be prosecuted in this way," she said.

She promised that she would see through her trial, and said that she had not considered leaving the country.

"I stand firm to fight my case. All eyes are on me. I have duties and responsibilities to carry on.

"I assure you, I've never thought of fleeing."

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 billions.

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.

'Big surprise'

Yingluck's no-show was a "big surprise" to most people in Thailand, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University told CNN.

"The way that she had fought, it had looked like she was willing to go through with (the trial).

"Now she'll be thinking about fleeing. (The verdict delay) provides a window for potential flight....if she has not fled already," he said.

Thitinan said Yingluck's decision to skip the verdict hearing will have "emboldened" the military government.

"They would not have wanted to put her in jail, in this scenario, (but her not showing up today) puts her on the back foot and gives them an edge."

There was only "low risk" of unrest following her absence, he added.

"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."

Crowds gathered

Hundreds of Yingluck's supporters who'd been waiting outside the court for the verdict quickly dispersed once word spread the former Prime Minister hadn't appeared.

Thai police had deployed 3,000 officers to the streets ahead of the hearing to guard against potential protests. At one stage, lines of police stood ready to repel any demonstrations.

As many as 1,000 supporters had gathered to hear the verdict, lining up behind barricades and crowding footpaths in nearby streets. Many were dressed in black to mourn the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last October.

The crowds came despite a plea from Yingluck on Facebook to stay away from the court due to security concerns.

Reporters outside the government complex which houses the Supreme Court said her supporters were ignoring police requests to stay in predetermined protest areas.

Fall from power

When she was inaugurated in 2011, Yingluck became Thailand's first female prime minister and its youngest in over 60 years.

The sister of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck was ousted by a coup in 2014 and was later impeached by Thailand's military-appointed National Legislative Assembly. The ruling barred her from political office for five years.

At the time of her ouster, Yingluck said she had behaved with integrity and honesty during her time as prime minister.

"I pledge that I have followed correct proceedings of the constitution, laws of the country in every way," she said on social media.

Amid the outcry over the rice subsidy scandal, Yingluck was investigated by Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for the rice subsidy issue and put on trial. Proceedings have lasted more than two years.

Shortly before the military coup in 2014, a Thai court ordered Yingluck's removal from office, finding her guilty of violating the country's constitution in her reassignment of a senior security official in 2011. That official was replaced by the then-national police chief, whose role in turn was given to Priewpan Damapong.

Damapong is the brother of the ex-wife of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, who was overthrown as Prime Minister in a military coup in 2006. Thaksin is living in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges.

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