Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will face a criminal trial in connection with her government’s program to aid rice farmers, raising the possibility that she could be jailed.
The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would accept the case after state prosecutors charged Yingluck with dereliction of duty in February, nine months after the military seized power in a power grab.
The court will now decide whether she was guilty of criminal negligence for not stopping the alleged graft in the program, which bought rice from farmers at above-market rates, Bloomberg News reported.
She has already been retroactively impeached and banned from politics for five years over the subsidies and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted in the latest case.
Yingluck has denied the allegations, saying the cases against her are politically motivated and being pushed by the forces behind the military coup that toppled her elected government last May.
The criminal conviction and jailing of Yingluck for alleged offenses she had no direct involvement in could heighten tensions in a country still divided by a decade of political unrest, the news agency said.
Yingluck’s party swept into office in the 2011 elections, in part by appealing to Thailand’s millions of rice farmers with a plan to buy their crops at above-market rates.
Yingluck said the program was aimed at reducing inequality by boosting rural incomes, but opponents said it was ill-conceived, encouraged corruption and was a form of vote buying.
Once implemented, the program was criticized by exporters for distorting the market and dethroning Thailand as the largest rice exporter.
International rating companies including Moody’s Investors Service voiced concern that the subsidies strained public finances.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission ruled last July, two months after Yingluck’s government was overthrown, that she was negligent for failing to halt the program after being warned of losses that grew to an estimated 500 billion baht (US$15.3 billion).
The junta’s hand-picked legislature, the majority of members with links to the military, then voted in January to retroactively impeach her.
The anti-graft agency has also recommended that 21 other people, including former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, be charged for alleged corruption linked to the rice program.
The office of the attorney general filed the charges March 17, accusing the former officials of faking a government-to-government rice deal.
Should the court decide to take up the case and find Boonsong guilty, he could be jailed for life and ordered to pay a fine of 35.3 billion baht.
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