What we need to know before Yingluck’s judgment day

On 25 August 2017, the Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on the historic case of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who stands accused of causing billions of baht in losses through her administration’s controversial rice-pledging scheme (RPS). Prachatai has gathered 10 important facts about the historic case, which will set a standard for future public policy and almost certainly deepen political divisions regardless of the outcome.

- The RPS was a key policy implemented in 2011 by the Pheu Thai Party under Yingluck’s leadership. Under the policy, the government promised to buy rice from farmers at the premium price of up to 20,000 baht per ton, which the government would then sell itself. But as global rice prices decreased, the government was criticised for reselling the rice at a loss and causing unsold stocks to rot in warehouses.

- Members of parliament from opposition parties, led by the Democrat Party, accused Yingluck’s administration of corruption in 2012 over alleged irregularities in four government to government rice deals in which the government claimed to have sold rice to two Chinese companies. The total rice exports to the two Chinese companies amounted to 67.7 billion baht. But the opposition claimed that the deal benefitted businessmen with ties to the Pheu Thai Party.

- The RPS was one of the main issues which the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the anti-election protest movement led by former Democrat Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban, drew upon to mobilise people to join mass protests in Bangkok against Yingluck’s administration.     

- The case against Yingluck proceeded quickly. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in 2014 spent only 21 days concluding the corruption allegations against Yingluck. Within seven months after the NACC concluded the case file, the prosecutor indicted Yingluck with criminal offences over the allegations and filed the case to the Supreme Court. She was accused of violating Article 157 of the Criminal Code, the law against malfeasance by public officials, for failure to prevent losses and corruption. She was also indicted under the 1999 Organic Act on Counter Corruption.

- In January 2015, the then National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted 190:18 to impeach Yingluck, resulting in a five-year political ban against the former PM. In February, the NACC submitted a letter to the Ministry of Finance to demand financial damages from Yingluck. The Ministry in October 2016 demanded 35.7 billion baht in damages.

Yingluck greets her supporters in front of the court house

- The Supreme Court repeatedly dismissed Yingluck requests. In 2015, Yingluck’s defence lawyer filed a lawsuit against the prosecutor to the Supreme Court, but the court dismissed the lawsuit. The court also dismissed Yingluck’s requests to temporarily suspend the case and to exclude 23 plaintiff witnesses from the hearing. In 2016, Yingluck submitted requests to have the court inspect 16 rice mills in Ang Thong Province, to reconsider its jurisdiction over the case, and to have the court inspect 70,000 pages of additional documents. The court dismissed all three requests.     

- In defence, Yingluck stated in her closing statement to the court that the RPS was implemented in good faith. She stated that it is a good and beneficial public policy based on sound economic principles. She testified that the scheme was not aimed at making profits, but at raising the income of over 15 million rice farmers to levels comparable to the minimum wage of 300 baht per day. She maintained that the policy generated economic returns, both at the grassroot level and macro-economic level.

- In July 2017, Yingluck’s 16 bank accounts were frozen and the authorities ordered the Land Department to prohibit her from selling 37 of her properties.

- Towards the end of the trail, the junta initiated legal measures to intimidate Yingluck’s supporters. In early August, Watana Muangsook, former Pheu Thai Party MP; Pichai Naripthaphan, another Pheu Thai politician; and Pravit Rojanaphruk, a veteran journalist from Khaosod English, were all accused of sedition over Facebook posts related to the case. On 7 August, van drivers hired by Yingluck supporters were charged with using vehicles without proper licenses. The national broadcasting regulator on 10 August ordered Peace TV, a TV station affiliated with the anti-establishment red shirts, to be shut down for 30 days, reasoning that it had incited conflict and unrest. As the judgment day on the case draws near, the police have been inspecting trains and buses to look for Yingluck supporters travelling to Bangkok.

- Yingluck could receive a jail term of up to 10 years and a permanent political ban if she is proven guilty. However, the 2017 Constitution allows her to request bail or appeal within 30 days after the verdict is read. Regardless of the ruling, she will still face 11 other cases which the NACC has filed against her.