Bangkok: Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has left her 15 year-old son in Thailand and will seek asylum in the United Kingdom after failing to show up for a negligence trial in which she faced 10 years’ jail, according to sources in her party.
Ms Yingluck arrived in Dubai after flying in a private jet via Singapore, sources said.
Her departure has prompted speculation in the Thai media that the military-run government facilitated her escape after cutting a deal with her family.
For two years the country’s 50-year-old first female prime minister had been closely monitored by security services, often complaining about invasions of her privacy.
Ms Yingluck would have become a martyr for her “Red Shirt” mass movement if she had been jailed over her handling of a subsidy scheme that benefited rice farmers.
The Bangkok Post reported on Sunday that it is believed Ms Yingluck received a “go” from those in power last week and was travelling on a foreign passport.
But Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters security forces had not allowed her to flee and are checking possible escape routes.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army general who led a coup that ousted Ms Yingluck’s government in 2014, also said he did not know where she was and the government was “looking for her”.
“If she’s not guilty she should stay and fight the case,” Mr Prayuth said.
“If she’s not here, what does that tell you? Will she still say she didn’t get justice?”
Analysts say Ms Yingluck’s failure to show up for the Supreme Court verdict on Friday marks the end of a decade-long era when the Shinawatra family’s mass movement dominated politics, winning the country’s past five general elections.
Ms Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who founded and directed the movement, has a base in Dubai and homes in the UK where he regularly visits.
He fled Thailand to avoid a jail sentence on corruption charges in 2008.
Thai media is reporting that Ms Yingluck told a close aid to take care of her son Supasek Amornchat, amid speculation he will join her in exile.
Ms Yingluck was last seen in public on Wednesday when she made merit and prayed at a Buddhist temple.
She last used social media on Thursday.
Leaders of Ms Yingluck’s Pheu Thai have met to try and avoid mass desertions by supporters upset that she did not stay and fight.
But Tida Thavornseth, an adviser to the Red-Shirt movement, said her departure will not hurt the party’s popularity.
“The people understand it well. The more they want to destroy the Shinawatra family, the more sympathy they garner,” she said.
Judges hearing the charges against Ms Yingluck have delayed delivering their verdict until September 27.
Her commerce minister was sentenced to 42 years’ jail on Friday in a case related to the rice subsidy scheme that caused billions of dollars in losses to Thailand.