Ex-Thai PM Yingluck to fight $1bn fine over rice scheme

Yingluck Shinawatra says she will fight order demanding nearly $1bn in compensation for a failed rice subsidy policy.

Ousted former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures as she arrives at the Supreme Court in Bangkok
After her overthrow, Yingluck was charged with criminal negligence over the rice subsidy scheme [Chaiwat Subprasom/'Reuters]

Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s former prime minister, has vowed to fight an administrative order demanding she personally pays $1bn over her government’s money-losing rice subsidy scheme.

The plan, which paid farmers above market rates for their rice, was a flagship policy of Yingluck’s administration and helped sweep her to office in a 2011 general election. 

Thailand’s first woman prime minister, Yingluck was ousted by a court decision shortly before the military staged a coup in May 2014 and seized power from her elected government.

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After her overthrow, prosecutors accused Yingluck of criminal negligence over the scheme which critics say haemorrhaged billions of dollars and temporarily cost Thailand its crown as the world’s top rice exporter.

Yingluck told reporters outside a Bangkok court on Friday that she had received a notice two days ago ordering her assets to be seized and hitting her with a fine of 35 billion baht ($996m).

“In terms of the order, it is not right and it is not just,” Yingluck said. “I will use every channel available to fight this.”

The rice subsidy scheme was a policy engineered by Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup.

Under the plan, the Thai government bought rice from farmers at a fixed rate, sometimes up to 50 percent higher than global market prices.

Fluctuations in market prices and mismanagement of the stockpiles led to large losses, estimated to have been worth between $4bn-$17bn.

But Yingluck supporters say the case against her is part of a military plan to wipe out the influence of the Shinawatra family – a view shared by some analysts.

“It is par for the course of the military coup which was to put down the Thaksin challenge once and for all,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters.

The junta denies it is singling Yingluck out.

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In addition to cases against Yingluck and senior members of her former cabinet, the military government is investigating some 850 cases related to the rice scheme for corruption, government spokesman General Sansern Kaewkamnerd told Reuters.

Many of the cases involve lower-ranking public officials and members of the private sector, he said.

An adviser to Yingluck, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that the asset seizure was done using section 44 of the interim constitution, which gives former army general and current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha absolute power to give any order deemed necessary to “strengthen public unity and harmony”.

Yingluck has 45 days to appeal the order.

The army said it staged the 2014 coup to bring stability following months of unrest. It denies staging the coup to limit the influence of Thaksin, his family and their political allies.  

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Source: News Agencies