Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is in Dubai and plans to seek asylum in England, according to a senior member of her political party.
Ms Yingluck failed to attend court on Friday, where she faces criminal charges over a rice subsidy policy that cost taxpayers an estimated $15 billion.
Her lawyer said she was sick but the court did not accept that and has issued a warrant for her arrest, postponing the verdict until September 27.
The timing and exact route of her escape remains unconfirmed, although party sources said she and her son travelled overland to Cambodia, flew to Singapore and on to Dubai.
“Ms Yingluck is in Dubai with Mr Thaksin and will seek asylum in England,” said a source inside the Pheu Thai party.
“It was not a sudden decision, she knew that she will get a harsh punishment by the military government,” the source told the ABC, on condition of anonymity.
Ms Shinawatra receives ears of rice from her supporters as she arrives at the Supreme Court in Bangkok. (Reuters: Chaiwat Subprasom)
Thailand’s first female prime minister faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.
In a separate case linked to the same rice subsidy policy, Ms Yingluck’s former commerce minister was sentenced on Friday to 42 years in jail for corruption.
The military ousted Ms Yingluck in a bloodless coup 2014.
She was impeached and banned from politics for five years and last month had her bank accounts frozen while the junta seeks $1.1 billion in damages for the rice scheme.
While the rice pledging policy was financially disastrous and plagued with corruption, critics of the junta say the case is politically motivated.
The Shinawatra family has dominated Thai politics for the 15 years, winning every election they have led or backed.
The military Government that runs Thailand now has promised — and postponed — elections each year since the coup.
What is ‘rice pledging’?
The rice subsidy run by the Yingluck administration was an extreme version of a policy that has been used by generations of Thai governments to control prices around harvest time and boost support amongst farmers.
During the main harvest, rice floods the market and prices drop.
So governments offer rice pledging deals, in which farmers mortgage their rice to the state in exchange for loans, later buying back the crop when the price increases.
Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration took the idea much further.
Between 2011 and 2013, it bought millions of tonnes of rice at double the market value, a gamble that was popular amongst farmers, her core constituency.
When the global rice market tanked, the government was left with warehouses full of overpriced crop.
Unscrupulous millers and others sold, swapped, and stole the stockpiled rice, while some simply rotted.
The public prosecutor alleged Ms Yingluck ignored repeated warnings that the scheme was being exploited.