Defendant leaves everyone guessing

politics August 26, 2017 01:00


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Court rejects plea by ex-pm’s lawyer to defer verdict because she was unwell.

EMBATTLED former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra caught the entire country, including thousands of her supporters and colleagues who had gathered outside the Supreme Court yesterday, by surprise when she failed to turn up to hear the final verdict in the rice-pledging case. As the old saying goes: “To fool your enemy, you must first fool your allies.”

The former PM was expected to show up at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders yesterday at 9am to hear the judgement in the case in which she is accused of negligence after her administration’s flagship rice-subsidy policy burdened the state with a loss of more than Bt400 billion.

It was a historic case whose outcome was eagerly awaited by many people because of its implications for Thai politics and its potential to dictate the direction the country would take in the years to come. 

Millions of people were tuned in for the latest updates. Thousands came all the way from provinces around the country to the capital, not only to witness history but also to stand beside their beloved politician on her big day. 

Yingluck’s colleagues – key Pheu Thai figures – were also present. So were her close relatives who arrived at the court early morning yesterday to be there for their sister, cousin, and aunt.

Weeks before the judgement day, security measures had been laid out strictly to curb thousands of people expected to be mobilised in the capital to support Yingluck. No reports of measures have been implemented to curb Yingluck from leaving Bangkok or even the Kingdom. 

But little did anyone know that Yingluck would abscond the final court session.

Yingluck may have hinted in her latest Facebook post that she would not meet with her supporters and so they should not go to the court. But nobody imagined her message could be a veiled hint at her own absence from the court.

Dozens of reporters stood in front of Yingluck’s residence in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum district since early morning, following a tip-off that she would leave for the court at 7am for the one-hour drive on the 17-kilometre route to the court. There were no signs of her anywhere although a grey van was seen entering her home at around 7.15am.

Even until as late as 8.15 – 45 minutes before the court appointment time – no one saw it coming that Yingluck would be a no-show. Reporters were convinced that the former PM had spent the night in one of her houses in Bangkok and would be attending the court; also, there was no effort by her lawyer to seek a postponement of the verdict reading.

When Nation reporters checked with Yingluck’s staff at around 8.13am, they were informed that she would be arriving at the court soon.

It only hit some people that Yingluck might not be present when a black van with vanity licence plate number entered the court five minutes before the appointment time, drawing cheers from the crowd, but it did not bring Yingluck.

By then the gathered people were starting to get frustrated, as they were clueless on what was going on. Because of the court’s ban on use of cellphones and restrictions on people going in and out, many were in the dark about Yingluck’s whereabouts or whether or not she was already in the courtroom.

At the same time, people in the courtroom were also unaware of the situation outside. They were caught up with strict security measures and court rules. 

Looking forward to hear the final verdict in Yingluck’s case in the afternoon, they had no clue that they were about to leave the court room in less than half an hour.

Around 9.30am, the nine-judge ruling panel entered the courtroom. Judge Cheep Junlanon informed that they would cover the “rice-pledging case” first, leaving the audience bewildered. 

Without mentioning Yingluck by name and only referring to her as “the defendant”, Cheep said the lawyer of the defendant had requested postponement of the verdict reading because the defendant suffered symptoms of meniere’s disease |and was hence unable to attend court.

He said the prosecutor did not believe the claim because no medical certificate was presented and that the defendant could not be so unwell that she could not attend the court.

Cheep went on almost without pause that the court did not believe the defendant was so unwell that she could not attend the hearing. 

The action was convincing that the defendant was absconding, Cheep said, and hence the court ordered an arrest warrant to be issued and for seizure of the bail amount of Bt30 million.

All the judges stood up and left the courtroom immediately after Cheep finished reading the one-minute statement.

Only when reporters inside the courtroom came outside did everyone realise that Yingluck had failed to turn up. Some of Yingluck’s colleagues who were outside appeared equally bewildered after learning of the news.

Amid rumours that the former PM had already fled the Kingdom, her lawyer Norawich Larlang declined any knowledge of such an action. 

The lawyer said he was only informed by a second-hand source at around 8am that Yingluck was suffering from vertigo and would be absent from the ruling day.

Yingluck was last seen in public on August 23 – two days before the |judgement day – making merit |at Wat Rakhangkhositraram Woramahavihan in Bangkok.