Fugitive ex-PM convicted of malfeasance in G2G deals.
POLICE PLEDGED to step up the hunt for convicted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra after the Supreme Court yesterday ruled unanimously to sentence her in absentia to five years in prison.
Convicted of negligence in preventing corruption and irregularities in her government’s rice-pledging scheme, Yingluck had fled abroad, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who staged the 2014 coup that toppled her government. However, he did not offer any details.
“[She is] in a foreign country.” When asked if Yingluck was in a neighbouring country, he said he was unaware. “Don’t ask me.”
Prayut had promised before the verdict reading yesterday that more details about the fugitive’s whereabouts would be divulged.
In line with standard procedures, police were waiting for an arrest warrant to enforce the verdict and would coordinate with Interpol to hunt down the former premier, national police chief General Chakthip Chaijinda said.
Yingluck disappeared late last month just a day or two before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders was due to read a verdict in the case on August 25.
Police were investigating who had helped her escape from Bangkok and her route of travel, Chakthip said, adding that they had already alerted 190 member countries belonging to Interpol.
“There is no clear information about her, so far,” he said.
He added that Prayut had not given police details about her location despite having earlier said he knew where she was.
Three police officers have been moved to inactive posts for allegedly driving Yingluck to the Cambodia border two days before the reading of the verdict last month.
However, the officers are not facing charges, lending weight to speculation that the former prime minister’s escape was part of a deal with the junta.
The court yesterday found Yingluck guilty as she had acknowledged the illegality of the government-to-government rice deals and had failed to stop nominal rice deliveries to a non-existent Chinese state-owned enterprise.
The phoney government-to-government rice sales were conducted by her former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, who was jailed for 42 years last month.
The court ruled that the deal involved ill-gotten gains and the dishonesty in the discharge of official duties.
“Favouring Boonsong and other accomplices, Yingluck allowed them to buy rice at lower than the market price while also receiving a surplus of goods, resulting in damage to the state budget, which is an act of malfeasance,” the court said.
“The defendant [Yingluck] was found guilty of the offences under Section 157 of the Criminal Code and Section 123/1 of the Organic Act on Counter Corruption 1999 and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment,” a statement from the court read.
Both the defendant and prosecution had the constitutional right to appeal either on the grounds of legal procedures or evidence to the Supreme Court, according to the new 2017 Constitution.
Yingluck’s lawyer Norrawit Larlaeng said after the verdict that he did not know if his client would appeal as he had not talked to her since her disappearance before the scheduled reading of the verdict on August 25.
However, there is lack of clarity on her right to appeal since the law regarding procedures for crimes committed by political office holders has not yet come into force. The new law stipulates that defendants have the right to appeal only if they appear in court in person.
Norrawit declined to predict possible scenarios in the case, reiterating that he would need to review the court’s decision in detail before proceeding.
The caretaker secretary-general of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party, Phumtham Wechayachai, reacted to the verdict by expressing confidence that the scheme initiated by his party had been faithfully intended to help farmers.
“We will remain steadfast and continue our mission to help ease people’s difficulties,” he said.