Happier times. US President Barack Obama meets then Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Government House in Bangkok in November 2012. Source: Wikimedia
The Thai junta says it will sue the prime minister it deposed in its 2014 coup, Yingluck Shinawatra, for billions of dollars it says were lost during her rice subsidy programme.
The news comes as Thailand gears up for the August 7 referendum on the military-drafted constitution, with Yingluck seen as the key figure in the muffled campaign against the controversial charter.
Prime minister’s office spokesman Panadda Diskul said a special committee estimated US$8.2 billion was lost under the scheme, and Yingluck was liable for about US$5.8 billion of it.
The rice scheme was a major catalyst in months of debilitating protests that led to the coup.
Yingluck was forced from office in May 2014 when a court found her guilty of abuse of power in a personnel case and the military soon deposed her administration.
The military-appointed parliament later formally impeached her on charges of mismanaging the subsidy scheme, barring her from politics for five years. She is already on trial for alleged dereliction of duty in administering the subsidy, a criminal charge that could jail her for 10 years.
She is expected in court on Friday to begin her defence in the ongoing criminal trial.
The rice subsidy was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck win the 2011 general election. She said it was aimed at helping poor farmers, who were paid about 50 per cent above what they would have received on the world markets, pumping billions of dollars into the Shinawatras’ key support base in the northeastern rice bowl of Isan.
The government presumably gambled that it would drive up the world price for rice by stockpiling supplies, but other suppliers like Vietnam took up the slack, meaning Thailand lost its spot as the world’s leading exporter.
The policy led to a 40-per-cent fall in Thai rice exports.
Yingluck claims the case against her is a politically motivated attack on her family, which remains popular with rice farmers.
The Shinawatra’s electoral dominance since 2001 has rattled the Thai Bangkok-based elite.
Panadda said around 13.3 million tonnes of rice were purchased and stored by the authorities, but less than 1 million tonnes ended up being exported.
He said the junta would also seek compensation from Yingluck’s commerce minister, Boonsong Teriyapirom, and other members of her government.