Former PM Yingluck sentenced in absentia to 5 years in prison

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Former prime-minister Yingluck Shinawatra is shown arriving at the Supreme Court in this Aug. 1, 2017, file photo. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Former prime-minister Yingluck Shinawatra is shown arriving at the Supreme Court in this Aug. 1, 2017, file photo. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — The Supreme Court in Bangkok sentenced former prime-minister Yingluck Shinawatra in absentia on Wednesday to five years in prison for alleged negligence in the controversial money-losing rice subsidy program.

Yingluck, who says the charges are politically motivated, is believed to have fled the country last month before the court session at which the verdict initially was to have been delivered. She and her supporters said she was innocent and was persecuted as part of an effort to dismantle the political machine of her brother and former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The rice subsidy scheme was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party win the 2011 general election. The government paid farmers about 50 percent above what they would have received on the world market, with the intention of driving up prices by warehousing the grain.

Instead, other rice-producing countries captured the market by selling at competitive prices. Vietnam as a result replaced Thailand as the world’s leading rice exporter.

Prosecutors argued that Yingluck ignored warnings of corruption in the subsidy program and was guilty of dereliction of duty. Her critics describe the overriding motive of the program as political, an effort to buy the loyalty of rural voters with state funds.