BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been ordered to report to Thailand's national anti-graft agency by 30 June to hear criminal charges over a government program that compensated victims of political violence.
Yingluck and members of her former Cabinet have been charged with ‘abuse of power’ for approving the program in 2012, which distributed 500 million baht to the families of those injured and killed in political unrest between 2005 and 2010.
Vicha Mahakhun, a director of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said today that Yingluck and the other ex-Ministers are required to appear before the commission and formally hear the charges before 30 June.
He told reporters that Yingluck tried to postpone the deadline indefinitely today, but her request was rejected because it was submitted by a "hired document courier," and not someone who "formally received permission to act in legal matter on Ms. Yingluck's behalf."
"Also, the letter says Ms. Yingluck requests a postponement, but reserves the right not to disclose how long the postponement is," the NACC official said. "Since it is not clear, and there was no person who formally received permission from Ms. Yingluck to commit legal action on her behalf, the NACC holds that we have not received the request."
Yingluck will have 15 days to prepare her testimony after she reports to the NACC on 30 June, he said.
"As for the deliberation of this case, the NACC will look at regulations and conditions of the compensation, and whether they were lawful," Vicha said. "At the moment, we believe there are irregularities."
A majority of the recipients of the compensation program were victims of the military crackdown on Redshirt protests in 2010, which is considered the bloodiest episode in recent Thai history. More than 90 people, mostly civilians, died and thousands were injured.
Other recipients of the funds, which reached up to 7.5 million baht per family, were protesters affiliated with the rival Yellowshirt movement, which has staged several mass demonstrations in Bangkok to protest governments backed by Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
For much of the past decade, Bangkok has been paralyzed by alternating street protests staged by the Redshirts, a mostly rural-based movement loyal to Thaksin, and the Yellowshirts, an alliance of urban conservatives, bureaucrats, and traditional elites.
Worawat Ua-apinyakul, a Minister under Yingluck, said he also requested to postpone his meeting with the NACC because he just returned to Thailand today from a trip, and has not yet prepared necessary documents.
He described the NACC's investigation into the compensation program as "bizarre," and said the government allocated the funds from the national budget in accordance with the laws.
"Many previous governments have also used the central budget for spending, such as for disaster relief efforts and compensation money," Worawat told Khaosod. "If the NACC continues with this kind of judgment, in the future all of the Cabinet's uses of budget may be considered unlawful."
Worawat continued, "I insist that the compensation payment was in accordance with bureaucratic regulations. The money didn't go into anyone's pockets. It reached the hands of the victims. And a compensation of 7 million baht [for each deceased victim] is not high, because people's lives cannot be estimated in financial terms."
The compensation inquiry is the latest of several legal cases pursued by the NACC against Yingluck and other members of her government, leading critics to accuse the agency of launching a political "witch-hunt" in an effort to cripple the powerful Shinawatra clan.
In January, the NACC successfully lobbied for Yingluck’s retroactive impeachment over her government's rice-pledging scheme, which came with a five-year ban from politics. In May, the NACC also oversaw the impeachment of three more officials from Yingluck's government for their roles in the rice program.
Yingluck is also facing up to 10 years in prison in a Supreme Court trial for her alleged failure to stop corruption in the rice-pledging scheme. She has been banned from leaving the country while the trial is ongoing.
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