BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was convicted in absentia of malfeasance and sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday for corruption that occurred under her watch.
Following a trial that ran over two years and saw its defendant flee the country, the court’s reading of the verdict began at 11am and continued for nearly four hours. In it, judges said Yingluck had been warned by the National Anti-Corruption Commission of graft in a price-pledging subsidy program overseen by her government.
“Importantly, there had been corruption in every step of the price-pledging program. … Moreover, members of the House of Representatives, scholars, press, and public had sent letters, debated, provided opinion about corruption about every step of the rice-pledging program [sic],” according to an English-language summary of the ruling furnished by the court.
Convicting Yingluck of dereliction of duty hinged on whether she knowingly ignored the kind of graft that is endemic at most levels of government. The court decided she was.
“The defendant should have designated reasonable and effective regulations that could concretely prevent loss from the beginning of the program. It appeared on the contrary [sic],” the English summary read. The defendant did not take such precaution therefore contributing to huge loss to farmers, State budget, Ministry of Finance, the country and the people. [sic]”
The verdict was first scheduled to be read on Aug. 25, and Yingluck was declared a fugitive when she failed to appear. Although she did not show, the court sentenced one of her deputies, former Commerce Minister Boonsong, to prison for 42 years for his role in a “government-to-government” deal later found to be fraudulent.
In its ruling, the court referenced an unspecified interview Yingluck gave to a media agency which it said showed she was aware of the bogus so-called “g2g” deal.
The court also ruled that a range of other unscrupulous actions took place under the program such as the disappearance of rice stock and falsified documents.
Yingluck was tried for official malfeasance, the maximum penalty for which is 10 years in prison. Her supporters have said her prosecution was politically motivated and being carried out at the behest of the military government that ousted her administration in 2014 following street protests in Bangkok.
It was a less boisterous crowd of about 100 supporters who gathered outside the courtroom this morning compared to the hundreds who staged a loud rally in support of the second Shinawatra to enjoy wide electoral support and be forced out of office in a decade.
Anuphan Hunsuwan, a supporter of 50-year-old Yingluck from Bangkok who arrived at the court since morning, said her expectation for justice was almost nil.
“I doesn’t affect [the way I see her] at all. We think it’s as if they want to rid the country of this [Shinawatra] clan,” Anuphan said. “Yingluck wasn’t proven to be corrupt but why has she been punished so severely?”
Under new laws applying to public figures, there is no statute of limitations on elected officials who commit crimes on the job. This means today’s conviction and sentence will never expire, and Yingluck would face arrest if she were to ever return to Thailand.
Speculation has placed Yingluck in either London or Dubai, a frequent home of her brother, a fugitive former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup and later convicted.
She has made no public statements since leaving.
This is a developing story and will be updated without notice.