Thai junta demands former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra pay US$8 billion bill for failed rice scheme
Yingluck says the case against her is a politically motivated attack on her family who are loved by the kingdom’s rice farmers
Thailand’s military rulers on Monday said a rice subsidy scheme by the government it ousted cost the state more than US$8 billion, adding former leader Yingluck Shinawatra should be personally sued for the loss.
Yingluck, Thailand’s first female premier, was booted from office by a court days before army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in May 2014.
The rice scheme was a major catalyst in months of debilitating protests that led to the military takeover. She has since been retroactively impeached over the scheme and is currently undergoing a separate criminal negligence trial which could see her jailed for up to 10 years. Now the junta says it will push a civil damages case against her and some key former ministers.
“A fact-finding committee panel ... has found that the damage cost of rice pledging scheme was 286.6 billion baht [US$8.2 billion],” Panada Disakul, a minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, told reporters, the first time a hard figure has been given for the losses.
Yingluck, whose older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was booted out as premier by a 2006 coup, is accused of failing to halt rampant corruption in the multibillion-dollar subsidy. She is expected to appear in court on Friday to begin laying out her defence in the ongoing criminal trial.
The scheme offered farmers nearly double the market rate for their crop, pumping billions of dollars into the Shinawatras’ key support base in the country’s northeastern rice bowl. But the programme was panned by critics as financially ruinous and a naked attempt at vote-buying by the Shinawatra clan.
The former premier denies wrongdoing and says the scheme was a genuine attempt to help rice farmers, mainly in the poor, populous and long-neglected north and northeast.
But the policy led to a 40 per cent fall in Thai rice exports after the government hoarded rice in a bungled attempt to push up its global price to fund the policy. That led to massive stockpiles as markets turned away from the Thai grain, costing the country its title as the world’s top rice exporter.
Yingluck says the case against her is a politically motivated attack on her family who are loved among rice farmers.
The Shinawatra’s electoral dominance over the past decade has rattled Thailand’s Bangkok-based elite.
The siblings are the figureheads of Thailand’s democracy movement, which has floundered for nearly a century under an arch-royalist elite desperate to retain power. Fearful of a political comeback, the junta has tried to tangle Yingluck in legal rulings.
Economists have also accused the junta of adopting some of the Shinawatras more populist fiscal policies, including paying above market rates for rubber amid a global price slump.