By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Monday showed up to defend herself against charges linked to a ruinous government rice pledging scheme that could lead to her removal from office.
The charges were brought against her by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). Should the commission forward the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck would be suspended from official duties.
It was unclear when such a decision would be made, but it could take weeks.
Yingluck arrived at the anti-graft commission's headquarters to defend herself, following earlier speculation that she might send lawyers to represent her instead.
She criticized the NACC last week for not giving her enough time to gather evidence and for fast-tracking the investigation.
Government supporters accuse the courts and independent agencies, including the NACC, of bias and say several judges are aligned with the conservative establishment.
Yingluck has been charged with dereliction of duty for her role in overseeing a government rice-buying scheme that has run up huge losses and left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid.
Her allegations prompted the anti-graft commission to issue a statement defending the way it has handled Yingluck's case.
"As there were suspicions that Yingluck abused her position... the NACC has had to investigate the suspicions to get to the truth," the NACC said in statement.
"Yingluck has received just and fair treatment (by the NACC) under the framework of the constitution."
Yingluck is nominally the head of the National Rice Committee. Her government introduced the scheme, which ended on February 28 this year, in 2011, paying farmers above the market price for their grain.
She has come under huge pressure over the past five months by protesters trying to oust her. Demonstrators have occupied state offices and key intersections in Bangkok in a bid to remove her and rid the country of the influence of her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Protesters disrupted a February 2 general election, halting voting in parts of Bangkok and the south. The Constitutional Court nullified the election this month, throwing Thailand into deeper turmoil and leaving Yingluck in charge of a caretaker government with severely restricted powers.
Protesters want ill-defined political and electoral reforms before a new general election is held.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Nick Macfie)