Thai PM defends herself against negligence charges

Thai PM defends herself against negligence charges

BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra testified Monday in front of anti-graft officials over negligence charges that could lead to her removal from office and a ban from politics.

Yingluck arrived at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in Bangkok on Monday but made no comment to the media as she entered the building or as she left ten minutes later, an AFP reporter said.

She was summoned to answer charges linked to a controversial rice subsidy scheme, which paid farmers above market rates for their crops.

Observers say that after months of street protests, the kingdom's political crisis is lurching towards a critical new phase, with the NACC appearing set to move against the embattled premier.

"The prime minister gave verbal and written testimony... she asked the NACC to question 10 more witnesses and give more time for her lawyers to submit more evidence," commission member Pakdee Pothisiri told reporters.

"We will discuss both of these requests tomorrow... we are glad that she came, the atmosphere was good," he added.

If indicted by the anti-graft agency, the prime minister would be immediately suspended from office pending an impeachment vote in the upper house of parliament within weeks.

But Pakdee refused to be drawn on a possible timeframe for the NAAC's response and denied accusations that the commission had sped up the process to assist the anti-government movement on Bangkok's streets.

Critics say the rice scheme battered Thai finances and fostered massive corruption, simply to shore up the rural base of Yingluck and her brother, the divisive self-exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted as premier in a 2006 coup.

The issue has become a lightning rod for Yingluck's political opponents who have massed on Bangkok's streets for months in a bid to topple her government.

Yingluck has protested her innocence, but if she is found guilty faces a possible five-year ban from politics, as well as imprisonment by the courts on criminal charges.

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