Thailand's Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Is Now A Fugitive
Thai authorities are looking for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra after she was a no-show Friday at a hearing where she was expected to learn the verdict in her criminal trial. Thailand's Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant and border guards were keeping an eye out for her, although there was speculation that Shinawatra may have already left the country.
The dramatic twist dashed the expectations of many in Thailand who had been awaiting the verdict — and a potential prison sentence for Shinawatra if convicted of negligence.
Now, current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has "assigned officials to check the normal entry and exit routes and find out where she is."
From Bangkok, NPR's Michael Sullivan reports for our Newscast unit:
"There was a huge police presence at the courthouse where hundreds of her supporters had gathered for the verdict. But Yingluck's lawyers told the court she couldn't make it — because of an earache.
"The judges weren't buying it. 'We don't think the defendant is ill, we think the defendant is hiding ... or has fled,' a court statement read. A new date for the verdict has been set for Sept. 27. Yingluck has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail."
Shinawatra has jumped bail following a string of problems that derailed her tenure. Forced out of office by a military coup in May of 2014, she was formally impeached in January of 2015. Months later, a court charged Shinawatra with negligence, as NPR's Scott Neuman reported, "for her role overseeing a populist rice-subsidy program that was mishandled, costing the government billions of dollars." She has pleaded not guilty.
On Friday, two officials from Shinawatra's administration were ordered to serve long jail terms over the rice scheme. As the Bangkok Post reports, former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom was sentenced to 42 years in jail; his former deputy, Poom Sarapol, got 36 years.
As for Shinawatra's whereabouts, Thai media speculated that she might have fled the country and traveled to Singapore, on her way to to join her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by the military in 2006 and has since lived in self-imposed exile after he was found guilty of corruption.