Thai impeachment trial could reignite flames of controversy

BANGKOK - Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's impeachment trial over costly rice subsidies kicked off Friday, with the ultimate verdict sure to trigger sharp reactions and possibly destroy the fragile stability now maintained through martial law.

The National Legislative Assembly summoned both Yingluck and the National Anti-Corruption Commission that day. She entered the building at 9 a.m. with key members of her cabinet and lawyers, and told reporters she was ready to explain everything.

The subsidy programme was introduced right after Yingluck took office in August 2011. The government purchased rice for roughly 50 per cent above the market price in an attempt to raise the incomes of rural farmers, the main support base for Yingluck and brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

The government ended up with massive losses from footing the difference until the programme was abolished after the May 2014 coup. It also suffered from a buildup of storage costs for leftover rice. The policy cost the government 518 billion baht (S$21 billion), according to the Ministry of Finance.

A military-led investigation also revealed that a portion of the rice stockpiled in the 1,800 official facilities was missing or had been switched out for lower-quality varieties.

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