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Thailand Indicts Yingluck Shinawatra Over Controversial Rice Subsidy Scheme

The Thai military junta has filed criminal charges against the former prime minister over her divisive rice-buying policy that cost the country millions.

by Jenna Corderoy
Feb 19 2015, 1:42pm

Photo by Sakchai Lalit/AP

Thailand's attorney general has filed criminal charges against the country's former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over her government's divisive rice subsidy scheme.

Shinawatra, who was removed from power in May 2014 before her government was ousted by the military days later, could face up to 10 years behind bars if found guilty. Thailand's Supreme Court will consider whether to pursue the case against the country's former leader on 19 March.

According to the Bangkok Post, Shinawatra's lawyer said that she was confident she had sufficient evidence to defend the charges brought against her.

Thailand's rice subsidy scheme was established by Shinawatra's government, who was popular among the rural population. Under the program, rice was bought from farmers above the market price to boost their incomes and it helped Shinawatra's government win elections in 2011.

However, the scheme cost the government billions, as well as the country's title as the number one rice exporter, when it was overtaken by India and Vietnam. Analysis by the Economist in 2013 showed that Thailand's exports fell by about 4 million tons, approximately a third, in the first full year of the subsidy scheme. 

The policy was also subjected to allegations of corruption. According to Reuters, the country's National Anti-Corruption Commission will recommend that the finance ministry sues Shinawatra for around 600 billion baht ($18 billion) to recover the scheme's losses.

From late 2013, Thailand was rocked by anti-government protests, culminating in Shinawatra's removal from power in May 2014 by the Constitutional Court, who found her guilty of abusing power. Thailand's army is now in power, and the country remains under martial law.

Shinawatra's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and he has lived in exile since to avoid being jailed for corruption. A telecoms billionaire, Thaksin was popular among the rural poor but hated by the Thai elites.

In January 2015, Daniel Russel, the assistant US Secretary of State for East Asia, called for an end to the martial law in the country, but Thailand's foreign ministry said many Thais were "hurt" by his remarks. At one time, the US and Thailand were allies but Washington downgraded diplomatic ties and stopped $4.7 million of security-related aid after the 2014 coup.

Recently, on Valentine's Day, anti-coup protesters held a demonstration in Bangkok, handing out roses and copies of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Bangkok Post reported that three people were detained for "attitude adjustment."

Follow Jenna Corderoy on Twitter: @JennaCorderoy