PM given 15 more days to defend against rice charges


BANGKOK, March 13 – Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Thursday resolved to extend the dateline for caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to defend herself against negligence of duty charges in connection with her government’s rice pledging scheme.

The caretaker premier earlier assigned her lawyer Norawit Lalaeng to acknowledge charges on her behalf.  Shortly afterward, the lawyer requested the NACC chairman for a 45-day extension for his client, reasoning that more time was needed to examine substantial evidence.

Ms Yingluck is obliged to submit her written statement to the NACC before the March 14 deadline.

NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljieak said on Thursday that the graft-busting agency meeting agreed to extend the deadline for 15 more days.

The NACC unanimously decided last month to press charges of neglect of duty against Ms Yingluck in her capacity as chairperson of the National Rice Policy Committee (NRPC).

The caretaker premier criticised the NACC for pressing charges against her after only 21 days of investigation.

She said she has performed her duty as prime minister in the past two years with honesty to protect the national interest but the NACC’s decision to investigate the Democrat Party’s allegations against her could be unfair to her for she should be given enough time to find witnesses and evidence to defend herself.

The charges relate to heavy financial losses to the state of as much as Bt200 billion (some US$ 6 billion) according to the NACC.

Vicha Mahakhun, a NACC member, said earlier that there was sufficient evidence and witnesses clearly pointing to Ms Yingluck’s awareness of corruption in the rice subsidy programme and rice distribution.

Her failure to stop corruption has severely damaged the country and the NACC will investigate the case, said Mr Vicha, adding that Ms Yingluck had also received a warning letter from the Office of the Auditor General which told her to stop the project but she insisted on continuing it

She was also informed of corruption in the rice pledging programme during parliamentary debates and from reports on the rice subsidy operations, supplied to her by chairman of the subcommittee on paddy pledging scheme, that the subsidies had created Bt200 billion in damages while many farmers did not receive payment.