Thai court voids order for ex-PM to pay $1B for rice losses
BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Thailand on Friday annulled a 2016 order by the country’s Finance Ministry for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to pay 35.7 billion baht ($1.1 billion) in compensation for losses incurred by a money-losing rice farming subsidy program that her 2011-2014 administration launched.
The country’s Central Adminstrative Court said the 2016 payment order lacked a legal basis since Yingluck was not responsible for the alleged corruption because it was carried out operationally by other officials. The court said the Finance Ministry failed to prove Yingluck was directly responsible for the financial losses.
Yingluck, whose government was ousted in a 2014 coup, was sentenced in absentia to five years’ in prison in 2017 for negligence in instituting the subsidy program. She fled Thailand before the verdict and called the case politically motivated.
The rice subsidy program was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party win the country’s 2011 general election. Under the program, the government paid farmers about 50 percent more than they would have received on the global market, with the intention of driving up prices by warehousing the grain.
But other rice-producing countries captured the international rice market by selling at competitive prices. Thailand as a result lost its position as the world’s leading rice exporter and large amounts of rice sat unsold in government warehouses.
Yingluck’s critics described the overriding motive of the rice subsidy program as political — an effort to buy the loyalty of rural voters with state funds.
Yingluck and her defenders said she was persecuted in an effort by political enemies to dismantle the political machine of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled from power by a 2006 military coup after being accused of abuse of power, corruption and disrespect for the country’s monarchy.
His supporters, who delivered him unprecedented electoral victories, believe his only offense was challenging the power of the country’s traditional elite, which is led by monarchists and the military and supported by the urban middle class.
Yingluck and Thaksin remain in self-imposed exile.