BANGKOK: Former Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra was formally indicted over a bungled rice subsidy scheme on Thursday in the latest legal move against her polarising family that could see her jailed for up to a decade.
Thailand’s junta-stacked government is also considering launching a civil suit against the nation’s first female prime minister to seek $18 billion in compensation for damages caused by the scheme which her government introduced.
The indictment comes after Yingluck, sister of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was retroactively impeached last month by an assembly appointed by the junta which seized power from her elected government last May.
“Today we have indicted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for dereliction of duty” in relation to the costly rice scheme, said Chutichai Sakhakorn, director-general of the special litigation department at the Office of the Attorney General.
The Supreme Court will decide whether or not to accept the case on March 19.
The ousted premier has been banned from leaving the country since authorities announced she would face criminal charges over the populist scheme on the same day she was impeached, a move carrying an automatic five-year ban from politics.
Yingluck did not attend the indictment at Bangkok’s Supreme Court but her lawyer Norawit Larlaeng said she had no plans to travel overseas after rumors she might seek to flee the kingdom.
“She will enter the justice process,” he told reporters ahead of the formal charges being laid out.
Popular but disastrous scheme
The ex-premier has defended the rice scheme as a necessary subsidy to help poor farmers who historically receive a disproportionately small slice of government cash.
But while popular among the Shinawatras’ vote base in Thailand’s rural heartlands in the north and northeast it was economically disastrous, leading to massive stockpiles of the grain.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Sommai Phasee said his ministry had received a letter from the national graft agency asking it to pursue a civil suit against Yingluck to recover losses of $18 billion as a result of the scheme.
“The finance ministry oversees damages to the state and is ready to take action,” he said.
The subsidy, which paid farmers in the rural Shinawatra heartland twice the market rate for their crop, cost billions of dollars and inspired protests that felled Yingluck’s government and led to a military takeover on May 22.
Experts say the impeachment and criminal charges are the latest attempt by the country’s royalist elite, and its army backers, to extinguish the political influence of the Shinawatras, whose parties have won every election since 2001.
The clan draws the loyalty of urban working-class voters and farmers from the north and northeast, who applaud the family for recognizing their changing social and economic aspirations.
The junta says it will hold fresh elections in early 2016 once reforms to tackle corruption and curb the power of political parties are codified in a new constitution.