Former leader Yingluck has fled Thailand after skipping court hearing, says party source
Former leader’s whereabouts unknown as government also admits she may not be in Thailand after avoid verdict hearing of negligence trial
Thailand’s ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled Thailand, a senior party source said, after she skipped a court appearance on Friday that could have seen her jailed, prompting the Supreme Court to issue a warrant for her arrest.
Thousands of supporters – outnumbered by police – waited from dawn for a glimpse of the ousted leader, but she did not show. A senior party source said “she is definitely no longer here, she is likely in Singapore now”.
In a day of high drama, Yingluck missed her court hearing for negligence over a controversial rice subsidy scheme, which carried up to 10 years in prison and a lifetime ban from politics.
“Her lawyer said she is sick and asked to delay the ruling ... the court does not believe she is sick ... and has decided to issue an arrest warrant,” fearing she may flee the country, lead judge Cheep Chulamon told the court, rescheduling the verdict to September 27.
A minister in her government was jailed hours later for 42 years in a separate trial for corruption linked to the policy.
Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha denied knowledge of her whereabouts but ordered border checkpoints “to be stepped up”, while his number-two Prawit Wongsuwon said it was “possible” Yingluck had fled through neighbouring Cambodia.
Requesting anonymity, the senior source in the Shinawatras’ Pheu Thai party said she left Thailand on Wednesday, adding “it’s impossible she left without the military green light”.
Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who is also a former premier, fled Thailand in 2008 before he was convicted of corruption and handed a two-year jail term. His Thai passport has been revoked.
He is believed to use a Montenegrin passport to travel between homes in Dubai, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The clan had clung on in Thailand’s treacherous political game for more than a decade despite two coups, a cascade of legal cases and huge asset seizures and deadly protests their supporters were sometimes blamed for.
Thaksin remains a galvanising force for his party and a canny political operator.
But analysts say if both siblings are in exile, their time in Thailand’s spin dryer political arena is over.
“It is the end of the Shinawatras and the Pheu Thai party in politics,” Puangthong Pawakpan, a Thai politics expert at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “With two family members as fugitives, the family loses political legitimacy.”
Yingluck’s departure would be welcomed by a Thai junta weary of the prospect of her political martyrdom in jail, she said.
Her flagship rice subsidy scheme poured cash into the hands of rice farmers in her family’s rural political heartland, paying up to twice the market rate for the grain.
But it was beset by graft and led to billions of dollars of losses. Critics argued it amounted to bribing farmers for their votes.
She pleaded not guilty to the charges, insisting she is the victim of a “subtle political game”.
Rumours of her flight were met with understanding from supporters who lingered outside the court.
“The Thai prime minister has done her best, she has sacrificed a lot,” said 64-year-old Seksan Chalitaporn. “Now the people have to fight for themselves.”
In a Facebook post on Thursday Yingluck asked her followers to stay at home to avoid any incidents caused by people with “ill-intention against the country and us”.
The Shinawatra family emerged as a political force in 2001 when billionaire patriarch Thaksin swept to power.
He jump-started the economy and provided the most extensive pro-poor welfare schemes in Thai history. But critics accused him of using political power to further his business interests and of selling Thailand’s sovereignty to foreign companies.
He remains loathed by the Bangkok royalist elite but cherished by the rural poor.
A coup toppled him in 2006 and he fled overseas.
Historically the Shinawatras have been able to mobilise huge crowds of supporters – known as the “red-shirt movement” – to take to the streets when the family’s political fortunes have waned.
But three years of junta rule have successfully quashed any widespread opposition to the military.