28 September 2017

“The defendant was found guilty...”

Democracy Monument

Yesterday, former PM Yingluck Shinawatra was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison, after the Supreme Court found her guilty of dereliction of duty in relation to her government’s rice subsidy policy. The court’s verdict had been postponed from 25th August, when Yingluck left the country. In its written judgement, the court said: “The defendant was found guilty of the offences under Section 157 of the Criminal Code and Section 123/1 of the Organic Act on Counter Corruption 1999 and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.”

The guilty verdict was related specifically to contracts with private Chinese companies, arranged by the Thai Ministry of Commerce, which were falsely designated as non-competitive government-to-government deals. Last month, former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom was jailed for forty-two years for his part in the scandal. In its judgement against Yingluck, the Supreme Court ruled that she was aware that the government-to-government deals were fraudulent, as she had sacked Boonsong on 30th June 2013. Also, the enquiry she established to scrutinise the deals was an internal investigation conducted by Boonsong’s subordinates.

Starting in 2011, Yingluck’s Pheu Thai government bought rice from farmers at up to 50% above the market rate, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. When other countries in the region increased their rice exports, Pheu Thai was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell, and that it was unable to pay for. (Yingluck was deposed by the Criminal Court in 2014 on an unrelated issue, and subsequently retroactively impeached.)

Yesterday, the court ruled that Yingluck was not responsible for the financial losses incurred as a result of the rice subsidy policy itself, thus calling into question the $1 billion penalty she was fined last year to compensate for the scheme. The court also determined that she was not guilty of corruption herself, and was not accountable for any irregularities associated with the operation of the scheme. The court’s guilty verdict rested on her failure to expose the fraudulent government-to-government contracts.

The court’s decision is another instance of déjà vu, as Yingluck’s political trajectory precisely echoes that of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. They were both elected with majorities (Thaksin in 2001, 2005, and 2006; Yingluck in 2011). In both cases, their elections were boycotted by the opposition Democrats (in 2006 and 2014, respectively). Those elections were both nullified by the Constitutional Court (also in 2006 and 2014). They both faced long-running street protests (the People’s Alliance for Democracy and People’s Democratic Reform Committee) that provoked military coups (in 2006 and 2014). They both had their assets seized (Thaksin in 2010; Yingluck in 2016). Finally, they were both jailed in absentia (Thaksin in 2008; Yingluck yesterday).

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