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Yingluck must face rice scheme trial

If I were Yingluck Shinawatra, I would come back to Thailand just to shut up those predicting I wouldn't. And risk spending considerable time in jail in the process? Well, a dutiful return would establish some trust and credibility, and it's not like the rice scheme trial by the Supreme Court's political division would conclude three weeks from now or something like that.

Seriously, though, if I was innocent, I would fight to the death. In this era, the National Council for Peace and Order could still put Yingluck in jail if they wanted to, but if they were persecuting her, the whole world would know. It would be their words against her on the world stage. If they lied and she told the truth, activists, bloggers and international journalists would dissect the case to its microscopic elements.

Alleging that the rice-pledging scheme was plagued with corruption is one thing, saying she knowingly let it happen or even got involved in graft scams herself is quite another.

This is clearly a bigger deal than the share concealment scandal or the Ratchadaphisek land acquisition. The former took place before Thaksin Shinawatra became prime minister, and you could argue that the tactic of putting large amounts of stocks in nominees' accounts was not uncommon among Thai businesspeople. The land case, though, like the share case was in obvious violation of the law, but could simply be deemed a purchase of something that shouldn't have been bought.

Yingluck is accused of serious crimes that allegedly took place when she was in office.

This is a glaring distinction between her case and her big brother's. While the share concealment affected stock traders, the man on the street asked "So what?" The same went for the Ratchadaphisek land case. "That isn't a crime in our country," a former Western diplomat once told me, although he acknowledged that a Thai law was broken by the land purchase.

The rice scheme, according to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, spawned corruption "every step of the way". Yingluck backed the controversial programme to the hilt, dismissing vocal criticism and repeated warnings by respected economists that her government could collapse under the weight of rampant graft and massive fiscal losses.

The government failed to pay farmers who "sold" it their rice at highly inflated prices, and some farmers, who were not paid, killed themselves.

Suicides related to state policies are not new. But suicides related to state policies that should and could have been stopped a long time ago due to clear signs of corruption and fiscal dangers could be different. Yingluck's defence will be a highly delicate task.

First, it will have to defuse claims that corruption was widespread, and if it fails to do so, it will have to shield her from the crimes.

Yingluck chaired the all-powerful national rice committee and the rice-pledging scheme was her ruling party's main policy. All warnings were well documented, and so were her (and her brother's) repeated insistence that nothing was seriously wrong with the costly rice programme.

Either gross negligence or direct involvement in corruption, or both, could land her in jail. Her defence has previously tried to build an argument that there was no way she could backtrack on a policy that was something promised to the people in an election campaign and then formally declared to Parliament. That wouldn't be good enough. The prime ministerial duty of stopping or preventing corruption when he/she can overrides everything.

The trial, assuming that corruption in the rice scheme is a foregone conclusion, will feature a fight between a "She didn't know it" defence and "Of course, she did" prosecution. And what the Democrats tried to say during the last censure debate - allegations to which Yingluck and the Cabinet paid absolutely no attention - may come back to haunt her.

But the onus remains on the accusers. That's why Yingluck should come back if she believes she is innocent. If she was jailed for a little embezzlement here and there or a small fraudulent activity or two by those "downstream", Thailand's political strife would only intensify.

The NACC has accused her of allowing massive corruption to happen under her nose and being involved in some of the grafts herself, and now it will have to prove it. In short, the NACC must establish that corruption took place "upstream" and all the way down.

Here's hoping that, after ideological "values" nearly made Thais kill one another on a nasty scale, spawning hatred, hypocrisy and propagandas, legal evidence and facts will step in and speak up.

After all, what is politically and ideologically right or wrong is slippery. What is legally right or wrong is much less debatable.


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