Former Thai PM faces criminal trial over rice scheme

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Yingluck Shinawatra faces 10 years in jail if found guilty of negligence, dereliction of duty in relation to rice-subsidies scheme.

BANGKOK – Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra goes on trial in relation to a disastrous rice subsidies scheme Tuesday — a court date that many see not just as judgment day for Thailand’s last elected leader, but for the entire Shinawatra clan.

The Shinawatras have been at the heart of Thai politics since 1998, when elder brother Thaksin founded his Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party. Prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he himself now lives in exile since a conviction for abuse of power in 2008.

Yingluck, whose government was overthrown in a coup one year ago, is due at the country’s Supreme Court on negligence and dereliction of duty charges in connection to a loss-ridden rice-subsidies scheme.

She is accused of failing to prevent corruption in the program, under which rice was bought from farmers at twice the market price.

Already retroactively impeached and banned from political activities for five years, she now faces ten years in jail.

Observers have said they consider the likelihood of a conviction high, given the large number of court decisions that have gone against the Shinawatra clan in the last ten years.

In 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced Thaksin to two years in jail for abuse of power related to a land purchase by his wife Potjaman, in May 2007, Thaksin’s political party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court for electoral fraud, and in December 2008, the same court dissolved its successor — the People Power Party — for the same reason.

Two pro-Thaksin prime ministers, Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat, were removed by the Constitutional Court in 2008, for participating in a televised cookery show and for violation of electoral laws.

And then in May 2014, two weeks before the coup, Yingluck was removed from her position as prime minister by the Constitutional Court for the illegal transfer of a high-ranking civil servant.

On a more positive note for Yingluck, observers disagree on the severity of Tuesday’s verdict — given that a firm jail sentence may inflame her millions of supporters in the country’s north and northeast as well as among the urban working class.

She won the previous election with 48 percent of the vote — her nearest opponent the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva took 35 percent. Although her popularity has waned, she still is considered to maintain the support of a majority of the country.

Yingluck confirmed Sunday to local media that she would appear in person during Tuesday’s trial and read an opening statement in her defense.

In a Facebook statement posted when the criminal charges were first brought against her in February, she wrote that she had launched the subsidies scheme to “lift the quality of life for rice farmers.”

“As prime minister, I was always honest and served the Thai people who voted for my government. I have not done anything wrong at all,” she added.

The anti-corruption commission, who brought the criminal charges against her, also announced last week that it has enough evidence to initiate charges of misconduct against her and 33 members of her Cabinet over a $60 million compensation scheme paid to victims of political violence between 2005 and 2011.

Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said that there was no law to back the disbursement and that it constituted a conflict of interest because most of the beneficiaries were her political supporters.

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