Thai former PM Yingluck to face trial over rice scheme: court

Thai former PM Yingluck to face trial over rice scheme: court
File photo of former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra

BANGKOK - Thailand's former premier Yingluck Shinawatra was Thursday ordered to stand trial on charges of negligence over a bungled rice subsidy scheme, in a case that could see her jailed for up to a decade.

The decision is the latest legal move against Yingluck -- Thailand's first female prime minister and sister of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- that could spell the end of her family's political dominance.

The Shinawatras, or parties allied to them, have won every Thai election since 2001.

"The panel (of judges) has decided that this case falls within our authority ... We accept this case," said judge Veeraphol Tangsuwan at Bangkok's Supreme Court, adding that the first hearing will be held on May 19.

Thailand's attorney general filed criminal charges against Yingluck in February, accusing her of "dereliction of duty" in relation to the economically disastrous rice scheme, which paid farmers in the rural Shinawatra heartland twice the market rate for their crops.

The programme cost billions of dollars and inspired the protests that eventually felled Yingluck's elected government and led to May's military coup.

The court's decision comes less than two months after the retroactive impeachment of the former premier by an assembly appointed by the ruling generals -- a move that carries an automatic five-year ban from politics.

Yingluck did not attend the Bangkok court on Thursday but will be legally obliged to attend the first hearing in May.

In a statement on her Facebook page after the ruling she defended the controversial rice programme as one which "lifted the quality of life for rice farmers".

"As prime minister I was always honest and served the Thai people, who voted for my government. I have confidence in democracy," she said.

The army takeover last year was the latest twist in Thailand's turbulent political landscape, at the heart of which sits Thaksin, who was toppled by a previous coup in 2006 and now lives in self-exile to avoid jail on a corruption charge.

Yet his influence persists in Thai politics, with Shinawatra-allied parties drawing the loyalty of the rural north as well as urban working-class voters for their populist policies.

But Thaksin is loathed by much of the country's royalist elite, which is backed by parts of the military and judiciary.

Puangthong Pawakapan, a Thai politics expert at Chulalongkorn University, said the charges against Yingluck were an example of history repeating itself.

"It's quite clear the elite want to force out the Shinawatras from politics," she told AFP.

The junta has said it will hold fresh elections in early 2016 once reforms to tackle corruption and curb the power of political parties are codified in a new constitution.

But the draft charter has already raised deep concerns in the kingdom, and critics doubt whether it will bridge Thailand's political divisions.

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