Thailand's former PM Yingluck to deliver closing remarks in criminal case

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 31, 2017 10:45 PM

By Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panu Wongcha-um

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra called for justice as she arrived in court on Tuesday to deliver a closing statement in a criminal case against her in which she is accused of negligence in her handling of a multi-billion dollar rice-buying scheme.

More than 1,000 supporters showed up outside the court in Bangkok in defiance of a government warning not to gather en masse as 300 police officers stood guard.

Yingluck, who has always maintained her innocence and denies allegations of negligence and graft relating to the scheme, arrived in court as supporters shouted: "Fight! Fight!".

"Today I will deliver a verbal closing statement to the court. I am confident that there was no wrong doing and maintain my innocence," Yingluck told reporters outside of the court.

"The rice scheme was a useful program that benefited farmers. I hope that there will be justice."

Yingluck, who led a democratically elected government until a May 2014 coup, sailed to victory in a 2011 general election.

She was banned from politics for five years in 2015 but remains a figurehead of the populist movement that has won every Thai election since 2001.

Her administration introduced a scheme to buy rice from farmers at above market prices, store it and resell it later at a higher price - a plan that appealed to agricultural voters, who make up nearly 40 percent of Thailand's labor force.

But the scheme backfired and caused Thailand to lose its crown as the world's largest exporter of the grain.

Thailand also ended up with 18 million tonnes of rice in stock piles which the military government has auctioned off since it took power in 2014.

Last week, the government said it had frozen assets belonging to Yingluck, including bank accounts and dozens of properties in relation to a separate, administrative order by the state to claim back money lost from the rice scheme.

The criminal case against Yingluck is the latest twist in a chapter of political infighting that has pitted Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, against members of the Bangkok-based, military-backed establishment.

After being ousted in 2006, Thaksin fled Thailand to avoid a 2008 jail term for corruption. He has lived abroad since, but retains a strong influence over Thai politics.

A new bill passed by the National Legislative Assembly on July 13 allows Yingluck to lodge an appeal without the need to submit new evidence if she is found guilty on Aug. 25, when the court is scheduled to rule in the case.

(Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panu Wongcha-um; Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Christopher Cushing)