A FORMER deputy agriculture minister told a Supreme Court hearing yesterday the Yingluck Shinawatra government had strict measures to test the quality of rice under the rice-pledging scheme.
Varathep Ratanakorn, who served as deputy agriculture minister and Prime Minister’s Office minister in the Yingluck administration, also said that rice farmers had to be registered in order to take part in the scheme.
He was acting as a defence witness in yesterday’s hearing of the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division on Political Office Holders in a case against Yingluck.
The former prime minister, whose government was ousted from power in the May 2014 coup, has been indicted by the Attorney General’s Office for alleged negligence in regard to massive irregularities stemming from the scheme. State losses have been estimated at over Bt500 billion.
The court asked Varathep if the Yingluck government had measures to prevent rice from outside the country being used in the project. He said the participating farmers had to be registered and residents in their communities had to guarantee that the farmers grew rice.
He said the authorities relied on aerial images to determine whether new rice paddies were grown on plantations.
However, he admitted that such checks were randomly applied on the participating farmers, possibly 25 per cent of the overall number, as there were many farms that could not be checked. He said it was unlikely farmers sold cheaper smuggled foreign rice to the project.
But he admitted there were rumours at the time that rice from neighbouring countries had been smuggled into the country. The Defence Ministry had instructed the military to work with police to intercept any smuggled rice.
The court will hear evidence from more Yingluck witnesses on September 9, including her former adviser Olarn Chaipravat, who went on to serve as Thailand’s trade representative, and Sumet Laomoraporn, chief executive of CP Intertrade.
Sixteen more defence witnesses are expected to testify before the court in February, March, May and June.