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She's Now A Guilty International Fugitive

She's Now A Guilty International Fugitive

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Supreme Court sentenced fugitive former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to five years in prison on September 27 after ruling in absentia she was guilty of negligence for not stopping alleged corruption costing billions of dollars during her failed rice crop subsidies.

The military junta, which ousted Ms. Yingluck in a bloodless 2014 coup, is now using "spies" to track her after she missed a court ruling on August 25 and reportedly smuggled herself out of Thailand with the help of police, decoy cars and a black surgical face mask.

Ms. Yingluck, 50, has not been seen in public since.

"She has not yet applied for political asylum and I don't know whether she will be able to get it," coup-installed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on September 26 amid speculation that Ms. Yingluck was trying for asylum in England.

"I know [her whereabouts]...I have spies," said Mr. Prayuth who led the 2014 coup when he was army chief.

Before disappearing, she insisted on her innocence and portrayed herself as a political victim.

To "compensate" the government for part of the multi-billion dollar losses caused by her rice subsidies, the junta recently froze about $1 billion of her assets.

She forfeited an additional $1 million in bail when she fled.

Ms. Yingluck reportedly joined her wealthy brother former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is living out a similar fate after being toppled by the military in a 2006 coup in which Mr. Prayuth also participated.

Mr. Thaksin is currently dodging a two-year prison sentence for a corrupt real estate deal involving his now-divorced wife.

The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions did not find Ms. Yingluck guilty of corruption or financially profiting from the subsidies, but instead for failing to stop corruption by others.

Ms. Yingluck was deemed guilty of criminal negligence -- also described as malfeasance and dereliction of duty -- for knowingly ignoring the fake deals, the court said.

Ms. Yingluck's government bought Thai farmers' rice crops when international prices were low and stockpiled it in massive warehouses.

She promised to pay the farmers much higher prices, amid expectation that worldwide prices would rise due to shortages caused by Thailand's rice not appearing on the market.

But international prices continued to go down and her government suffered huge losses.

One of the subsidies' fake deals involved former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom who received a 42-year prison sentence for a "government-to-government" rice deal reportedly between Thailand and China which did not exist.
Money went missing amid allegations that Thais pretended to represent Chinese officials.

Mr. Boonsong was sentenced on August 25 when the court was scheduled to also announce Ms. Yingluck's verdict.

After Ms. Yingluck ditched her appearance, the court postponed her verdict until September 27.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission along with opposition politicians, academics, local media and others repeatedly warned Ms. Yingluck during her 2011-14 administration that her rice subsidies were riddled with alleged theft, fake receipts, false inventory, bribery and other expensive flaws.
Rice millers, warehouse operators, rice traders and others were allegedly scamming the rice.

"Importantly, there had been corruption in every step of the price-pledging [subsidies] program," said the court in an English-language summary.

"Members of the House of Representatives, scholars, press and public had sent letters, debated and provided opinion about corruption about every step of the rice-pledging program," it said.

Her punishment was Thailand's first case under a recently crafted law which could have resulted in 10 years imprisonment.

"The defendant should have designated reasonable and effective regulations that could concretely prevent loss from the beginning of the program."
Instead, Ms. Yingluck did "the contrary."
Her actions contributed "to huge loss to farmers, the state budget, Ministry of Finance, the country and the people," the court said.

Supporters who boosted Ms. Yingluck, her brother and their candidates to power are now scrambling to decide if they should continue following the guidance of the Shinawatra siblings while they remain in self-exile, or find new local leaders who can oppose the well-entrenched military government.

***

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!' Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60 Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter about "Ceremonies and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest novel, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor Mask & President Akimbo" tells of a San Francisco psychiatrist who abducts a female patient and takes her to Asia.

His online sites are:

https://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com

https://www.facebook.com/SheilaCarfenders/

Twitter
@nimists

Instagram
sheila_carfenders

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