BANGKOK (AP) — The office of Thailand's attorney general on Friday announced plans to indict former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for her role in overseeing a government rice subsidy program that lost billions of dollars and temporarily cost Thailand its place as the world's leading exporter.
The announcement comes the same day as Thailand's junta-appointed legislature is due to vote on whether to impeach Yingluck for the subsidy program, a move which would ban her from politics for five years.
Yingluck and her supporters see the charges as part of an effort to deal a final blow to her party's political power after protests crippled her government last year, leading to a military coup in May. But analysts say it may only end up dividing a nation that has been plagued by political turmoil and coups for the last decade.
Surasak Threerattrakul, director general of the attorney general's Department of Investigation, said Friday that Yingluck will face criminal charges for negligence of duty as a state official. No date has been set for the formal indictment, but if charged, Yingluck faces 10 years in jail.
Surasak told reporters at a news conference in Bangkok that the attorney general had examined evidence and testimony against Yingluck "and found that the case was complete enough to prosecute."
In July, Thailand's Anti-Corruption Commission recommended criminal charges be filed against Yingluck for the subsidy program, which paid the farmers double the market price for rice. The program was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck's government win power in 2011, with Yingluck saying the scheme would directly benefit Thai farmers and reduce the income equality gap in the country.
Impeachment requires a three-fifths vote of the members, almost all of whom are part of the military or political opponents of Yingluck and the governments allied with her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
"Despite the warnings against it on several occasions, the prime minister, who should have stopped the damage, instead insisted on running the program until the damage became even more devastating," National Anti-Corruption Commissioner Wicha Mahakhun told lawmakers Thursday.
Yingluck, who appeared before Parliament on Thursday, denied she was responsible for any corruption associated with it. She also questioned the fairness of the investigation by the anti-corruption commission.
"The rice subsidy scheme was run by groups of people. It was a resolution of the Cabinet ... but why am I singled out?" Yingluck asked. "To bring the case against me alone, therefore, shows a hidden agenda under an unjust practice, and is a political agenda."
She also said the anti-corruption commission lacked the legitimacy to judge her because the junta terminated the constitution.