PM stalls on rice case hearing

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission to question four additional witnesses in her defence of allegations she failed in her duty in overseeing the government's flagship rice-pledging scheme.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting at the Police Academy in Sam Phran district, Ms Yingluck said she had instructed her lawyer, Bancha Porameesanaporn, to submit a petition to the NACC at 2pm asking it to call additional witnesses to testify in her defence.

This would further delay a decision in the case.

The four are caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yubmarung, deputy police chief Worapong Chewpreecha, caretaker PM's deputy secretary-general Pol Maj Gen Tawat Boonfueng and Pichai Chunhavajira, president of the Federation of Accounting Professions.

Ms Yingluck said that as chair of the National Rice Policy Committee she oversaw the rice-pledging scheme’s policy level, but part of the NACC’s accusation involved alleged irregularities in the scheme’s operation levels.

Therefore, it was necessary for the four additional witnesses, who were in charge of the programme’s operations and knew detailed information relevant to the inquiry, to be allowed to testify before the anti-graft agency, Ms Yingluck said.    

The NACC earlier resolved to hear testimony from only three of the 11 additional witnesses requested by Ms Yingluck in her defence of charges she was negligent in failing to stop corruption and losses in the programme. It excluded the other witnesses on the grounds that they were not relevant to the inquiry.

The three are Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan, caretaker deputy prime minister and commerce minister; Yanyong Phuangrach, caretaker deputy commerce minister; and Kittiratt Na-Ranong, caretaker deputy prime minister and finance minister.

The NACC said Mr Yanyong will testify in the case on Wednesday at 1.30pm and Mr Niwatthamrong will testify on Thursday at the same time.

Mr Kittiratt had asked to testify on March 18, because he was scheduled to leave for Washington yesterday to attend the meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, which will last until Friday, April 11.  

Ms Yingluck also lodged another petition asking the NACC to remove Wicha Mahakhun from its inquiry panel into the rice case, alleging he had shown bias against her in an interview with the media.

The premier said this was the third time she had petitioned against Mr Wicha, and she hoped the NACC would give her justice in the case. The NACC earlier resolved the allegation against Mr Wicha was groundless.

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