Yingluck gets some respite in rice-pledging scandal case

Yingluck gets some respite in rice-pledging scandal case

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who faces serious charges of dereliction of duty, was yesterday given a respite - almost a month - after the Office of the Attorney-General decided to work with the National Anti-Corruption Commission to probe more into her government's allegedly corruption-ridden rice-pledging scheme.

Public prosecutors cited "weak evidence" in calling for the joint panel to be set up within 14 days and for it to spend up to 14 days probing into her case.

Yingluck's lawyer Norawich Lalang welcomed the decision to set up the joint committee and expressed willingness to cooperate fully in further testimony.

He said he believed in the innocence of Yingluck and her ousted government in overseeing and implementing the pledging scheme for rice farmers.

Yingluck had accused the NACC of unusual haste in investigating and drawing a conclusion regarding her case.

Wanchai Rujanawong, spokesman for the attorney-general's office, said the joint investigation was aimed at strengthening the case against her and plugging all the loopholes so that it would be "perfect" before public prosecutors made the case against her at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.

Wanchai said he decided to conduct further investigations because he did not want to see the case rejected by the court.

"The NACC dossier just stated that corruption took place at every stage, without giving details, such as where, when, how, and who. Also, they failed to explain how the accused was involved.

"If the case is to be taken to the court, we need to gather more 'complete' evidence. Now it's insufficient," he said.

The NACC on August 5 submitted its investigation report to state attorneys with the recommendation to seek Yingluck's indictment by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.

The attorneys agreed that the NACC should restart gathering evidence because the NACC file was based on a Thailand Research Development Institute report, using only a cover with no further details.

Because of the Yingluck government's fiasco with its flagship populist policy, the state ended up suffering the biggest loss of more than Bt500 billion in the two-and-a-half years since 2011, according to the TDRI's latest paper.

Wanchai insisted there was no outside pressure, as the prosecutors had followed the law and justice process. Whether there would be further examination of witnesses would depend on the joint committee.

The rice-pledging scheme was launched by the Yingluck administration in 2012. It ended early this year. For two years - from 2012-13 and 2013-14 main and second crops, about Bt870 billion was spent to purchase 44.1 million tonnes of paddy for the government's stocks.

This made the government the biggest rice stocks holder and trader. Now the government has about 18 million tonnes of milled rice in its warehouses. With such an enormous volume of rice for storage, the government had to rent more than 1,800 warehouses.

Thailand has also surrendered its crown as the largest rice exporter in the world, with shipments overseas plummeting to only 6.9 million tonnes last year from 10.6 million tonnes in the previous year, due to the high export price of Thai rice.

The pledging price had been set at double the market price at the time.

Timeline of ex-PM's case

February 18: The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) finds grounds to press charges and initiate impeachment proceedings against then caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for alleged negligence and dereliction of duty in the controversial rice-pledging scheme.

May 8: The NACC votes 7-0 to bring impeachment proceedings against former prime minister Yingluck over the rice-pledging scheme.

July 17: The NACC votes 7-0 to ask the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) to prosecute Yingluck at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders on the charges.

August 5: The NACC submits the case file to the attorney-general.

August 6: Yingluck's lawyer asks the Office for 50 more witnesses to testify.

Yesterday: The OAG decides to set up a joint committee of public prosecutors and the NACC to conduct further investigations into the rice-pledging case against Yingluck.

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