Yingluck May Have Fled Thailand Before Ruling, Minister Says

(Bloomberg) -- Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra may have fled Thailand before a scheduled court verdict on Friday that could’ve led to her imprisonment, according to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

“There may be a possibility that Yingluck already escaped out of the country because there are several paths for her to leave,” Prawit told reporters in Bangkok. “But I would like to assure you that the government has no knowledge or intention to let her escape.”

A Thai court issued an arrest warrant for Yingluck after she failed to show up on Friday to hear a verdict in a negligence case. Prawit said he heard a rumor that she may have fled across the border to neighboring Cambodia, while newspaper reports said she may have later gone to Singapore or Dubai.

The verdict threatened to reopen fissures in Thai society that have triggered violent clashes over the past decade between urban royalists and rural backers of exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother. Allies of Thaksin have won the past five elections, only to be unseated by the courts or military.

Yingluck May Have Fled Thailand Before Ruling, Minister Says

Yingluck, whose government was ousted in a 2014 coup, faced up to a decade in jail if convicted of failing to curb losses from her government’s $26 billion rice-purchasing program for poor farmers. She has denied the charges and says the two-year trial is politically motivated.

Earlier on Friday, the court postponed the verdict until Sept. 27, saying the prosecution didn’t believe that Yingluck was ill. Her lawyer Norawit Larlaeng told the court that she had vertigo and couldn’t attend the hearing. He later told reporters that he didn’t know Yingluck’s whereabouts.

Singapore, Dubai

Matichon reported that Yingluck left Thailand via Cambodia before heading to Singapore. She was in Singapore on Wednesday and left for the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, the newspaper said, without saying where it got the information.

In a related trial that did conclude Friday, Boonsong Teriyapirom, a former commerce minister in Yingluck’s administration, was sentenced to 42 years in jail over irregularities in rice procurement deals.

If Yingluck did leave Thailand, she would be following in the footsteps of her brother. Thaksin fled abroad to avoid jail time on corruption charges brought after his own government’s ouster in a 2006 coup. Yingluck became Thailand’s first female prime minister after a 2011 election, the last one held in the country.

The Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on her location.

Yingluck was impeached in 2015 and banned from politics for five years for alleged corruption in the rice-purchasing program. She was also hit with a 35 billion baht ($1 billion) fine over the allegations of negligence in overseeing the policy, which purchased grain at above-market rates to help farmers.

Protest Risk

Yingluck on Thursday had urged her supporters to avoid thronging the court complex in Bangkok, as General Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s military administration steps up security to avert unrest.

Thai stocks were little changed after the court issued the arrest warrant. The benchmark SET index has climbed about 2 percent this year, one of the worst performers in Asia, weighed down in part by a climb in bad loans in Thailand.

Bonds have proved a bigger draw for foreign investors, helping to make the baht the region’s top-performing currency in 2017.

While the delay in the court ruling may hang over the stock market, the overall downside risk for investors from the saga is limited, said Rakpong Chaisuparakul, an investment strategist at KGI Securities (Thailand) Pcl in Bangkok.

Thailand’s military government clamped down on political activity after seizing power three years ago following a period of unrest, pledging to restore stability. The current stretch of military rule is one of the longest since the 1970s, in a country with a history of coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

The promulgation of a new constitution in April set the stage for a possible return to democracy in 2018, though a date for elections has yet to be announced. Prayuth said in a speech Thursday that the country would return to a democratic path soon.