Ex-PM Yingluck faces final hearing

PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

Red-shirt leader's jailing could deter ex-pm's supporters from turning out in large numbers.

Just a day after a key party figure and red-shirt leader was sent to jail, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will today attend the last hearing at the Supreme Court for alleged negligence in her government's controversial rice-pledging scheme - a case in which she could face a jail term.

At today's hearing, the 17th in this case, the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders is also expected to announce the date for its judgement.

The political heat has turned up with Jatuporn Prompan, the top red-shirt leader and a key Pheu Thai politician, being sentenced by the Supreme Court yesterday to a one-year imprisonment in a libel case involving former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva.

However, observers viewed that yesterday's verdict against Jatuporn could discourage Yingluck's red-shirt supporters from showing up in a great number at today's final hearing, as had been planned.

The court, today, will also rule on whether to grant a request by Yingluck to seek a Constitutional Court review on her case's legal validity under the new Constitution, which came into effect in April.

In her last-ditch attempt to delay a high-court judgement, Yingluck pointed out in her petition that Article 235 of the new charter requires the court to base its consideration upon the inquiry file of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

She said that this contradicted the 1999 law on court procedures, which required the court to mainly rely on the report by the relevant NACC committee.

During the previous 16 court hearings into the rice-pledging case, a few hundreds of Yingluck supporters would usually show up at the court's premises, but their number is expected to be higher today due to the significance of the final hearing, prompting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to urge supporters to abide by the law and respect the judicial branch.

In addition, General Chalermchai Sitthisart, the Army chief, brushed aside allegations that the military had dispatched personnel to monitor the movement of key Pheu Thai Party figures ahead of today's court hearing.

Chakkawud Triwallop, a red-shirt leader in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, said he had received an annonymous call telling him to be low-profile in displaying moral support for the ex-premier so as to avoid worsening the political climate and economy.

Chalermchai said no special orders had been issued Army personnel concerning today's final court hearing.

He said Yingluck's supporters had a right to show their moral support without breaking the law.

Chalernchai's estimate was that there would be 300 to 500 people showing up at the high court premises today when Yingluck attends the hearing, adding police will be responsible for law enforcement during the session.

Deputy premier Wissanu Krea-ngam said Yingluck had a right to petition the Consti-tutional Court to review the court procedures in the rice-pledging case in which she has been charged with neglecting her duty as prime minister while implementing the scheme, resulting in corruption and huge loss of taxpayer money.

Wissanu said it was up to the high court to decide whether Yingluck's petition would be forwarded to the Constitutional Court for a review as sought by the ex-premier under Article 5 of the new charter.

A judicial review would lead to a further delay of the high court's judgement.

Besides Yingluck, the former commerce and deputy commerce ministers of the Yingluck government are also facing similar criminal lawsuits pending in the Supreme Court.

In addition, Yingluck and former Cabinet members are also fighting civil liability lawsuits in which the government is demanding massive compensation for state losses in the rice-pledging scheme.

Meanwhile, Yuttapong Charassa-thien, a former deputy agriculture minister of the previous Yingluck government, yesterday led a group of media representatives to inspect the premises of Kanchana Feedmill Co in Ratchaburi province to verify the firm's purchase of government-owned rice.

According to Yuttapong, the firm won a Commerce Ministry contract for 38,924 tonnes of rice which came from the previous government's pledging scheme but that amount of rice was not present at the feedmill firm's warehouses.

Yuttapong earlier asserted that the government had sold rice suitable for consumption to the feedmill industry at a very low price resulting in bigger losses for the rice-pledging scheme in order to justify its lawsuits against former premier Yingluck.

An executive of Kanchana Feedmill said the firm had purchased 38,924 tonnes of rice from the Commerce Ministry and the rice was stored at other warehouses.

He said the rice had already been used in feedmill production.

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