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Former Thai PM Yingluck appears at Supreme Court over doomed rice subsidy scheme

Monday, August 31, 2015 - 13:51
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Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appeared before the Supreme Court on Monday to review evidence in a case involving rice subsidies that haemorrhaged billions of dollars and could see her jailed for up to 10 years for negligence.

[BANGKOK] Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appeared before the Supreme Court on Monday to review evidence in a case involving rice subsidies that haemorrhaged billions of dollars and could see her jailed for up to 10 years for negligence.

Yingluck's flagship election policy helped sweep her to office in a landslide in 2011, but its failure saw her banned from politics for five years in January by a legislature appointed by the generals who toppled her government.

The grain policy, which has since been discontinued, aimed to boost farmers' incomes by buying their rice at above market prices. Yingluck's government was attacked for refusing to abandon the scheme when the rice and debt piled up.

It caused an estimated US$16 billion in losses and left Thailand with a rice mountain it is still struggling to shift. The current stockpile is 13.9 million tonnes.

Prosecutors on Monday provided an evidence dossier of 60,000 pages and 23 additional witnesses in the case. "These were not seen or reviewed (by all parties)," Yingluck told reporters. "Today we're going to hear about this and hope that we will get justice."

She insists she acted honestly in administering the policy, which was widely criticised for distorting global prices and saw Thailand lose its crown as the world's top rice shipper.

Yingluck, 48, was greeted with applause and handed red roses by a crowd of supporters as she arrived at the court. "I came to give moral support," said Sangiam Thongnak, 61."She did the right thing."

Yingluck's supporters see the court case as another strike by a royalist establishment threatened by the rapid political rise of a clique of upstart capitalists from outside Thailand's traditional patronage network.

She won millions of votes by reviving the populist policies of her billionaire brother and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the Supreme Court jailed in absentia in 2008 for abuse of power, two years after he was ousted in a coup.

Prosecutors expect the Supreme Court proceedings to last at least six months. Some experts have said the junta risks a backlash if Yingluck's supporters perceive the verdict as unfair.

REUTERS