‘I am the victim of a political game’: Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra declares innocence in closing trial statement
She faces a criminal charge of negligence over a flagship policy to pay farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crops and could be jailed for 10 years
Thailand’s embattled former premier Yingluck Shinawatra said she was a “victim of politics” in a defiant closing defence on Tuesday at her trial for negligence over a rice subsidy scheme that could see her jailed.
Supporters at the Supreme Court, many with banners reading “We love Yingluck” and “We’re by your side”, mobbed the former prime minister, whose personal appeal in her heartland has surged as her legal travails have deepened.
Yingluck’s government was toppled by the army in 2014 and she was then retroactively impeached.
She faces a criminal charge of negligence over a flagship policy to pay farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crops.
The scheme poured billions of dollars into her rural voter base but also allegedly caused massive graft as brokers sold sub-par rice or declared inflated inventories to scoop up the subsidy. It left Thailand with huge stockpiles of unsold rice.
The court will issue a verdict on August 25, a ruling that could lead to Thailand’s first female prime minister being jailed for up to 10 years.
In an impassioned hour-long speech to the court, Yingluck said she implemented the scheme in good faith to boost the incomes of Thailand’s poorest.
Calling for the charge to be dismissed she denied turning a blind eye to graft, saying the case was a politically motivated attack led by junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha.
“I hope I can rely on the court to consider the case based on the facts and [political] environment when I was prime minister and not on the current environment,” she said, reading a 17-page defence. “I am a victim of a subtle political game ... I was not involved in corruption and I did not consent to corruption. I have done nothing wrong.”
Her trial over the outcome of a government policy is unprecedented in Thailand, a febrile kingdom where legal claims and counter claims swirl around most key political players.
A guilty verdict also incurs an automatic lifetime ban from politics – a potential gut punch to the Shinawatra clan whose candidates have won every Thai general election since 2001.
The Shinawatras are hated by the arch-royalist army and their supporters among Bangkok’s elite, who for a decade have turned to coups and the courts to regain power after losing elections.
The ruling will be a test of the kingdom’s stability after a decade defined by coups and bloody street protests. It is also a bellwether of the resolve of Yingluck’s supporters in the face of a junta which has comfortably corralled them since seizing power in 2014.
“The trial is an injustice,” said 77-year-old farmer Perm Duangchan, who travelled several hours to greet the ex-PM at court. “I want her to win the case so she can come back and help the country.”
In a sign of government concern over potential unrest hundreds of police were at the court on Tuesday as the 18-month trial neared its end.
Yingluck has the right to appeal any conviction. But she is entangled in several other legal cases including a civil case seeking US$1 billion compensation for losses over the rice policy.
The verdict could mean checkmate for the close-knit Shinawatra family, whose political networks spread across the north and northeast of the kingdom.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is due to rule whether Somchai Wongsawat, who was briefly premier in late 2008 and is the brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra, is guilty over a deadly crackdown on a protest. He also faces jail if convicted.
Thaksin, the billionaire family patriarch, sits at the core of Thailand’s festering divide. He was overthrown as prime minister in a military coup in September 2006 and currently lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail for graft convictions in Thailand.