Thailand: Former PM Yingluck Declares Innocence in Rice-Subsidy Scheme

Nontarat Phaicharoen
170801-TH-yingluck-1000.jpg Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (left), is greeted by supporters as she arrives at the Supreme Court to make her final statement in rice subsidy program corruption case, Aug.1, 2017.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proclaimed her innocence Tuesday as she begged Thai Supreme Court judges to not let politics or Thailand’s junta sway their upcoming ruling in her trial over a failed government rice-subsidy scheme.

Yingluck appeared before a panel of judges to give a closing statement in her trial on charges of criminal negligence in a multi-billion-dollar program, which her government launched to support the nation’s 23 million farmers, a group representing more than half of the nation’s voting population. Thailand’s first female prime minister was toppled in a military coup in May 2014 led by the current prime minister, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a retired army general.

“I did not do anything wrong,” Yingluck told the court. “As an upcountry woman who saw farmers – the backbone of the nation – living in horrible conditions, I tried to help them out. And I did so with a rice subsidy program that practically proved they attained a better quality of life.”

A verdict is due Aug. 25. Yingluck faces as many as 10 years in prison.

In September 2016, the Comptroller General's Department ordered Yingluck to repay 35.7 billion baht ($1 billion), as a result of a civil case related to the rice scheme, and, last week, authorities froze 12 of her bank accounts.

The charges against Yingluck, 50, stem from her administration encouraging rice farmers to store their crop in government silos and receive an advance of 15,000 baht (U.S. $450) per ton that they were to repay later. At the time, rice sold for 9,000 baht ($270) per ton. It never reached the advance price and supplies of the grain rotted in silos.

Some farmers who stored their rice received nothing because the government ran out of money to fund the scheme. A government committee appraised the loss at 178 billion baht ($5.3 billion), from 2012 to 2014.

‘Victim of a deep political game’

Yingluck whose net worth is valued at about U.S. $17 million (565 million baht) said the case against her was politically motivated.

“The rice policy has been proven to benefit the economy at the grass roots level and nationwide. It did not cause losses. Which is why I intended to make this rice scheme work,” she said in court Tuesday during her last opportunity to address the judges before the verdict. “I know that I am the victim of a deep political game.

“Before the court makes a decision, I beg your honors to judge as it is based on witnesses and evidence without listening to the chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), who holds the state power and the fate of the nation and who said publicly as if I were guilty,” she said.

Prayuth, who heads the NCPO – the junta’s official name – said he never tried to sway the judiciary in the case because it is independent from the executive branch.

“It is up to the court to decide. ... I have never influenced the judicial ring. They do their job with integrity. I have no command over them,” he told reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Rioting fears

Over the weekend, members of the Red Shirt movement, whose official name is the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), warned the government of possible rioting on verdict day.

The Red Shirts align themselves with Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who was toppled in a similar coup in 2006 and who remains in self-imposed exile.

Prayuth responded coolly to the riot threat.

“After the verdict, the political situation will not be up to me but the people and political factions. We need to move our country forward by the rule of law,” Prayuth said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a political observer said the Red Shirt movement was impaired because many of their hardcore leaders were in jail for committing libel or instigating violence.

“Chances of violence are low, even if Yingluck is jailed,” Sutin Wannabovorn told BenarNews.

Yingluck supporter Boonjerd Srisawat, who traveled to the court from the nearby province of Samut Prakan, said he could not predict the verdict, but said a conviction could affect the government negatively.

“It is like a chess game. There is the Red Shirt side and the Yellow Shirt (junta supporters) side, but they were both checkmated by the NCPO who took the power. If the court finds Yingluck guilty, it will add to the downward trend of the junta,” Boonjerd told BenarNews.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.