Ousted Thai PM defends rice scheme in open letter to junta leader

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 11, 2015 12:00 AM

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Ousted Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra sent an open letter to junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha on Wednesday defending her position in a case involving rice subsidies that hemorrhaged billions of dollars and could see her jailed for up to 10 years.

Thailand's first woman prime minister faces criminal charges in the Supreme Court over her management of the rice scheme, a flagship election policy that helped sweep her to office in a landslide in 2011. She was banned from politics for five years in January after a military-appointed legislature found her guilty of mismanaging the scheme.

Yingluck, in a letter posted on Facebook, said that the attorney general was deliberately rushing the case against her and total losses caused by the rice scheme were still unknown.

The military government says the scheme was riddled with graft and incurred losses of $16 billion dollars. It distorted global prices and saw Thailand lose its crown as the world's number one exporter of the grain to India.

Yingluck, who has defended the scheme, said the case against her does not expire for another 15 years.

"I insist that I am innocent and am ready to prove it," Yingluck said. "Rushing the legal process limits my chance to defend my position to the best of my abilities, which goes against basic human rights."

The Supreme Court has said it will review evidence and witnesses in the Yingluck case until November 2016 and has not yet set a trial date.

The rice subsidy scheme, which bought rice at above-market prices from farmers, left Thailand with around 13 million tonnes in stockpiles which the government is still struggling to shift.

Yingluck's government was toppled in a May 2014 coup which followed protracted political unrest in Bangkok.

Rivalry between the royalist-military establishment and the Shinawatra family, in particular Yingluck's brother, ousted populist premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has been at the heart of a decade of political turmoil in Thailand.

In September, Yingluck filed a criminal case against the attorney general alleging unfair handling of charges against her. The court threw the case last month, saying it found no evidence of abuse by prosecutors.

(Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry)