Former Thai leader seeking asylum in UK

Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's former Prime Minister is currently in London and seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom, a source in her Pheu Thai Party told reporters on Thursday

29 September 2017, 12:31pm
Thailand's fugitive former leader, Yingluck Shinawatra, is reportedly in London (Photo: Los Angeles Times)
Thailand's fugitive former leader, Yingluck Shinawatra, is reportedly in London (Photo: Los Angeles Times)
Thailand's Supreme Court convicted Yingluck of dereliction of duty over a controversial rice subsidy program, on Wednesday and sentenced her to five years in prison.

Yingluck was not present for the verdict or sentencing, as she had already fled the country. She was ousted by a military coup in 2014 and was barred from leaving Thailand without court approval, since 2015, when her trial began.

Her bail of 30 million baht ($900,000), posted when the trial began more than two years ago, has been confiscated.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that Yingluck was hiding in Dubai, where her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, another former Thai prime minister, lives in exile. However, the PTP source claimed that Yingluck left Dubai for London two weeks ago.

Back in 2016, Yingluck pledged to see through her trial, saying that she had not even considered leaving the country.

"I stand firm to fight my case. All eyes are on me. I have duties and responsibilities to carry on.

"I assure you, I've never thought of fleeing," she said.

The rice subsidy program, which was introduced in 2011, pledged to pay farmers well above the market rate for their crop. Critics said, however, that it wasted large amounts of public funds attempting to please rural voters, damaging exports and leaving the government with massive stockpiles of rice, which it couldn’t sell without losing money.

According to Yingluck, the rice subsidy scheme was "beneficial for the farmers and the country" and that claims it lost money were wrong and motivated by political bias against her.

Yingluck failing to turn up when the verdict hearing opened back in August was a “big surprise” to most in Thailand, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulaongkorn University at the time.

"The way that she had fought, it had looked like she was willing to go through with (the trial)”.

"They would not have wanted to put her in jail, in this scenario, (but her not showing up for the hearing) puts her on the back foot and gives them an edge."

He added that following her absence, there was only “low risk” of unrest.

Inaugurated in 2011, Yingluck became Thailand’s first female prime minister, however, following the 2014 coup, she was impeached by Thailand’s military-appointed National Legislative Assembly. The ruling subsequently barred her from political office for five years.

Yingluck was investigated by Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) amid an outcry over the rice subsidy scandal, and put on trial. Proceedings have lasted more than two years.

Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was overthrown as Prime Minister in a military coup in 2006. Thaksin is living in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges.