CHIANG MAI – Thailand’s anti-corruption agency is to investigate the assets of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and four members of her cabinet involved in a controversial rice subsidy program.
The move by the National Anti-Corruption Commission follows a May 22 military coup that overthrew the elected government Ms Yingluck had led.
She had already been forced from office by a court ruling earlier in May that she had abused her authority in approving the transfer of a high-level civil servant.
Ms Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra faced similar treatment after a 2006 coup ousted him from the prime minister’s job. He is in self-imposed exile to escape a jail term on a conflict of interest conviction.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission had already indicted Ms Yingluck over charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing the rice subsidy program, charging that she failed to heed advice that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption.
The Senate could have held an impeachment trial that might have barred her from politics for five years, but the parliamentary body was dissolved by the army after the coup.
The commission has made several significant rulings against Ms Yingluck and her government, which her supporters suspect were part of a conspiracy to oust her from office.
They believe independent agencies such as the commission, along with high level courts, are aligned with Thailand’s conservative traditional ruling class – guided by royalists and the military – who were alarmed at the political power of the Shinawatra family and its political machine.
Mr Thaksin and his allies have won every general election since 2001. The independent agencies and courts were seeded with anti-Thaksin personnel after the 2006 coup.
Criticism of the commission has focused on whether it is appropriate for a small, unelected body, instead of voters, to judge government policies.
In its earlier ruling, the commission said it was unclear whether Ms Yingluck was involved in corruption or had allowed it to take place. Very few, if any, prosecutions in court have been launched in connection with the rice programme.
The brief announcement said three former commerce ministers and a former deputy commerce ministers would also be investigated, without elaborating why it was forming a new subcommittee to probe them.
The subsidy program bought rice from farmers at above-market prices in an effort to boost rural incomes.
As the world’s top rice exporter, Thailand hoped to control the market and push up prices, but India and Vietnam increased exports, which prompted stockpiling by Thailand as it tried to contain losses from its subsidy policy.
The program incurred huge financial losses for the government, though there is no reliable estimate of the total.
The program was denounced by Ms Yingluck’s critics as being designed to win votes, but it became a major political weapon when protesters began rallying against her in November and successfully pressured banks not to lend to the government, delaying the payments to farmers.
Shortly after the coup, the new military government announced that it would make the long-delayed payments.
The coup, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army that had rendered it virtually powerless by declaring martial law two days before the coup.