Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra (pictured), who was facing up to 10 years behind bars if convicted on charges of negligence, has reportedly fled to Dubai.
Sources from her outlawed party said the 50-year-old flew to Dubai where her brother and fellow former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, lives to avoid a 2008 prison sentence for corruption.
She denied charges in Thailand related to a rice-buying policy she implemented during her time in office between 2011 and 2014.
Her disappearance is potentially advantageous to the military junta, allowing it to avoid giving her martyr status and provoking a confrontation with Shinawatra supporters.
Acquitting her would probably have been equally unacceptable to the generals and undermined the justification for the 2014 military coup which overthrew her government. It is unlikely anyone tried to stop her leaving or will try to make her return.
“We heard that she went to Cambodia and then Singapore from where she flew to Dubai. She has arrived safely and is there now,” an anonymous member of the Puea Thai Party told Reuters.
Up to 3,000 supporters gathered outside the court in Bangkok on Friday for Yingluck’s verdict in the negligence trial. The court said she claimed to be suffering from vertigo and a severe headache and failed to attend.
The court said it had not seen a health certificate and did not accept her excuse, postponed sentencing until September 27 and issued a warrant for her arrest. Her US$900,000 bail was confiscated.
Deputy national police chief General Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul said there was no record of her leaving the country.
The 2011 rice subsidy programme pledged to pay farmers, the backbone of her party’s support, far in excess of the market rate for their crop and cost billions.
Critics said that while it pleased rural voters, it wasted an estimated US$8 billion of public funds while damaging exports and leaving the government with huge stockpiles of unsold rice.
Yingluck’s ex-commerce minister was jailed for 42 years this week in a related case.
Shinawatra-backed parties have won every fair Thai general election since 2001 with the generals clearly unwilling to stage another vote until the electoral system has been altered and the family’s influence has been stamped out.
Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Picture credit: Flickr