Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was sentenced in absentia Wednesday to five years in prison by the Supreme Court after it found her guilty of negligence of duty for mishandling a rice subsidy project that caused massive losses.
Yingluck is believed to have fled the country ahead of the verdict day that was originally scheduled last month. An arrest warrant has been issued for her, with Thai police seeking assistance from Interpol.
In its ruling, the court said Yingluck, who oversaw the rice subsidy policy in her administration, failed to stop falsified government-to-government sales of rice despite warnings from relevant state and independent agencies.
Yingluck’s co-defendant, former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, was last month sentenced to 42 years in jail by the court.
Yingluck’s lawyer, Norawit Lalaeng, told reporters that her legal team will study the full verdict before making a decision on whether to appeal. However, Norawit admitted he has yet to reach Yingluck since Aug. 25 and still did not know where she is.
Police Chief Chakthip Chaijinda said efforts will continue to bring Yingluck back to face justice even though her whereabouts remain unknown.
Fewer supporters showed up at the court to hear the verdict than the initial court date last month. Most said the ruling was expected and that it was fortunate she had fled the country.
The younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in May 2014 by the Constitutional Court over an abuse-of-power case, just two weeks ahead of a coup against her political party’s successor government. The military has remained in power since then.
During the trial, she denied charges of criminal negligence in connection with her government’s rice-pledging scheme.
The scheme, which was her administration’s flagship policy, resulted in losses of some 500 billion baht (about $15 billion) to state coffers.
Her failure to appear in court on Aug. 25 prompted the postponement of the verdict until Wednesday.
Confirmed reports previously indicated Yingluck, who became Thailand’s first female prime minister in 2011, had fled the country to Dubai, where her older brother, who was ousted as prime minister in a previous military coup in 2006, resides.
Thaksin’s daughters this week showed photos of him in London, but it was unclear if Yingluck was with them there.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who as army chief in 2014 overthrew the civilian government led by the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party, claimed Tuesday to know Yingluck’s whereabouts. But he said he would only inform the public after the ruling.