Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was ousted in a military coup, appeared in court Friday for the first hearing in her criminal trial on charges she was negligent in overseeing a rice purchasing program.
Yingluck faces 10 years in prison if convicted in the case, which centers around her government’s signature policy of buying rice from farmers at above-market rates. Though Yingluck is not accused of corruption herself in the case, she was charged with criminal negligence for not stopping alleged graft in the program.
She has denied the allegations, saying the case is politically motivated and being pushed by the forces behind the May 2014 military coup that toppled her elected government. She has already been retroactively impeached by the junta’s legislature and banned from politics for five years over the subsidies.
Yingluck’s party swept into office in 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, while her opponents said it was ill-conceived, encouraged corruption and was a form of vote buying.
While the rice program lost money -- with losses at one point growing to an estimated 500 billion baht ($13.8 billion) -- there has yet to be a corruption conviction in connection with the subsidy. Also, the military government has since sold some of the stockpiled rice, though some was too damaged. Nevertheless, the junta is now seeking to seize Yingluck’s assets in order to pay back the government for losses from the program.