Most Wanted: Thailand's Ousted Prime Minister 'Flees Country' Ahead of Verdict

Ousted Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled the country ahead of the verdict of a negligence trial brought by the military junta that overthrew her in 2014, sources close to the Shinawatra family said on Friday.

Yingluck, 50, whose family has dominated Thai politics for more than 15 years, failed to show up at court for judgment in a case centered on the multi-billion-dollar losses incurred by a rice subsidy scheme for farmers. She faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

"She has definitely left Thailand," said one source who is also a member of the Shinawatra's Puea Thai Party. The source did not say where she was now.

Yingluck Shinawatra
Ousted former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra greets supporters as she arrives at the Supreme Court in Bangkok on August 1. She reportedly fled the country ahead of the verdict on August 25. Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant after saying it did not believe Yingluck's excuse that she could not attend the court hearing because of an ear problem, but there was no sign of police showing up at her house.

"It is possible that she has fled already," Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters.

Yingluck's lawyer, Norrawit Lalaeng, said her team had told him on Friday morning she had an "ear fluid imbalance" and could not attend court. He said he did not know whether she was still in the country. Her spokeswoman declined to comment.

Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who heads the political clan, was overthrown in a 2006 coup and fled into exile to escape corruption charges that he said were aimed at demolishing the populist movement he founded.

The struggle between that movement and a Bangkok-centered royalist and pro-military elite has been at the heart of years of turmoil in Thailand.

The verdict against Yingluck was widely seen as having the potential to reignite tensions, though the junta has largely snuffed out open opposition. The Supreme Court said the verdict would now be delivered on Sept. 27.

Yingluck last commented on social media on Thursday, saying on her Facebook page that she would not be able to meet supporters at court because of security measures.

She had been banned from traveling abroad at the start of the trial in 2015 and had attended previous hearings.

Supporters gather

On Friday, hundreds of Yingluck supporters had gathered outside the court, where around 4,000 police had been deployed. Some held roses, while others wore white gloves with the word "love" on them.

If Yingluck fled, it would disappoint her supporters and make her opponents feel vindicated, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

"It does not help with Thailand's division and polarization," he said.

Yingluck supporters
Supporters of ousted former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wait for her at the Supreme Court in Bangkok on August 25. Jorge Silva/Reuters

Under the rice subsidy program, Yingluck's administration paid rice farmers up to 50 percent more than market prices. It left Thailand with huge rice stockpiles and caused $8 billion in losses.

Yingluck has said she was only in charge of coming up with the policy but not the day-to-day management of the scheme.

In a related case on Friday, the Supreme Court sentenced Yingluck's former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in jail after finding him guilty of falsifying government-to-government rice deals between Thailand and China in 2013.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup against Yingluck's government in the name of ending political turmoil, has promised that an election will be held next year.

In 2015, Yingluck was banned from politics for five years by the junta's legislature for alleged graft in the rice-purchasing program.

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