Thailand’s top court on Wednesday sentenced ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra to five years in prison for criminal negligence, a verdict read in absentia after she fled the kingdom last month.
Yingluck’s administration was toppled in a 2014 coup and she was later put on trial for negligence over her government’s rice subsidy scheme, which is said to have cost billions of dollars.
She pleaded innocent and accused the ruling junta of a political witch-hunt.
But the Supreme Court in Bangkok deemed her guilty on Wednesday, saying she failed to stop corruption and losses in the rice programme.
“The court found that the defendant is guilty as charged… the court has sentenced her to five years in prison and the court also unanimously agreed that the sentence will not be suspended,” a judge said.
The verdict, which makes Yingluck’s return to the kingdom increasingly unlikely, said the leader “should have designated reasonable and effective regulations that could concretely prevent loss from the beginning of the programme.”
“The defendant did not take such precaution therefore contributing to huge losses to farmers, state budget, Ministry of Finance, the country and the people,” it said.
After attending dozens of hearings in a trial that lasted more than one year, Yingluck failed to turn up for a ruling originally scheduled for August 25 – a day of high drama that left the kingdom dumbfounded.
The 50-year-old has not made any public appearance or comments since pulling the vanishing act. But there are widespread reports she joined her billionaire brother Thaksin, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup, in Dubai.
Thaksin has kept a home in the city since he fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.
The two siblings lie at the heart of a political battle that has gnawed at Thailand for more than a decade.
Emerging on the scene in 2001, they won the loyalty of the rural and urban poor with groundbreaking welfare schemes in a sharply unequal country.
But their rise angered Bangkok’s army-allied elite, which repeatedly assailed their elected governments with coups or court rulings.
Yingluck’s downfall revolved around a scheme…