Thai PM defends rice subsidy program in legal case

3/31/2014 5:00 AM
By Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's prime minister defended herself Monday against charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing a contentious rice subsidy program.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra met with the National Anti-Corruption Commission to submit her defense in the case, which could lead to a suspension of her duties and eventual impeachment by the Senate. She submitted 200 pages of written evidence that was not made public.

Yingluck's supporters believe her opponents are trying to oust her from office through an unfair use of the legal system. Street demonstrations since late last year have sought to have her replaced by an appointed government that would institute anti-corruption reforms and ban her family from politics.

But Yingluck's supporters have vowed to take to the streets in protest if she is forced out of office. There is no set schedule for when the commission will issue a ruling, but if it finds her guilty and refers her case to the Senate, she will immediately be suspended from her position.

Yingluck is a caretaker prime minister, having called early elections as a way of affirming her mandate after the protests against her began. However, the February polls were annulled last week by the Constitutional Court and no date has yet been set for a new election. Several other legal cases are pending against her party members that could make it impossible for her to form a government.

Yingluck's opponents hope that a failure to form a new government will spark a constitutional crisis, allowing them to invoke vaguely defined clauses in the charter and have an unelected prime minister installed.

Thailand has suffered from severe political conflict since then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin's supporters and opponents have since taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission accused Yingluck, in her capacity as chairwoman of the National Rice Policy Committee, of allowing the rice program to proceed despite advice from experts that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption. The government has lost billions of dollars on the plan, which also cost Thailand its position as the world's leading rice exporter as it stockpiled the commodity.

Yingluck did not speak to the media. Her adviser, Suranand Vejjajiva, said that in addition to her written submissions, she told the commission that she wished for it to hear testimony from 11 witnesses. Prasart Pongsivapai, a commission member, said her request would be considered.

On Saturday, Yingluck released a statement on Facebook saying the anti-corruption body had not allowed her adequate time to prepare a defense.

Yingluck's supporters have vowed to stage a mass rally next Saturday, though they have not yet said whether it will be held in the capital, which many fear could lead to clashes with anti-government demonstrators. Sporadic political violence over the past four months has left at least 23 people dead and hundreds hurt.


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10/30/2014 | Last Updated: 4:15 PM