Thailand’s first female prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is said to have fled to Dubai, senior leaders of her party said a day after she failed to show up in court. Reports said she could have faced a 10-year jail term for charges of negligence in overseeing a money-losing rice subsidy program.
Local media reported that Yingluck, who swept elections in 2011, travelled by land to Cambodia then flew to Dubai to join her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin also served as Thailand Prime Minister, and is now living in exile since his government was toppled by a military coup.
An official of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party, who is close to the Shinawatra family, told The Associated Press she was no longer in Thailand.
Thousands of Yingluck supporters gathered outside the court ahead of the verdict on Friday. Thousands of securitymen also stood stood guard to keep a check on the law and order situation. But Yingluck never appeared, and a judge read out a statement saying her lawyers had informed the court she could not attend because of an earache.
The judge said the court did not believe the excuse, however, because no official medical verification was provided. The court ordered a warrant to be against her arrest and deferred the trial to September 27.
“If she’s not guilty she should stay and fight the case,” Prayuth said. “If she’s not here, what does that tell you? Will she still say that she didn’t get justice?” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the military chief who engineered the 2014 overthrow of Yingluck’s government said.
Yingluck has denied all the charges as politically motivated.
Yingluck’s trial is the latest chapter in a decade-long struggle by the nation’s elite minority to crush the powerful political machine founded by Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup. Thaksin has lived in Dubai since fleeing a corruption conviction that he says was politically motivated.
Thaksin is a highly polarising figure, and his overthrow triggered years of upheaval and division that has pitted a poor, rural majority in the north that supports the Shinawatras against royalists, the military and their urban backers.
When Yingluck’s government proposed an amnesty in 2013 that could have absolved her brother and allowed him to return without being arrested, street protests erupted that eventually led to her government’s demise in the 2014 coup.
(With inputs from agencies)