Yingluck's rice probe petition gets shot down

Court says warehouse search not timely

Ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra had plenty of supporters at the Supreme Court on Thursday, but the judges weren't so friendly. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has dropped a petition lodged by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who wanted it to check 16 rice storage facilities she claims will clear her name in the rice pledging scheme scandal.

Ms Yingluck had asked the Supreme Court to examine warehouses in Ang Thong, which stored pledged rice during her administration.

The former premier, who arrived at court for the 14th day of her defence in the matter, said the Commerce Ministry had affirmed that no irregularities were found at that facility. Commerce officials assigned to inspect all 16 rice storage facilities had further found no damage or evidence of graft.

Ms Yingluck said this new evidence would help prove her government's rice scheme was not rife with corruption or warehouses stacked with deteriorating rice, as has been alleged.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission was given this information but did not take it into account, the former premier said.

But the court said the examination of the warehouses is not necessary as the case has already run for two years, during which time the rice "could have deteriorated naturally". This could raise doubts over the information provided by the officials inspecting the facilities.

A group of nine judges on Thursday continued the trial in which three defence witnesses were scheduled to testify in court.

One of them was Adul Yuwawittayapanich, a former commerce ministry official who earlier sat on the panel probing allegedly bogus government-to-government rice sales under the Yingluck administration.

He told the court he had earlier tried to contact rice trading tycoon Apichart "Sia Piang" Chansakulporn, who is implicated in the government-to-government rice deal scandal, but his secretary said he was not in Thailand.

Mr Apichart, executive of rice miller Siam Indica Co, is among 21 defendants accused of colluding to help two Chinese firms not authorised by the Chinese government to undertake government-to-government deals with the Thai government to buy the stockpiled rice.

The Anti-Money Laundering Office has seized more than 687 million baht worth of assets from entities connected with Mr Apichart. The confiscated assets include two condominium rooms owned by his son.

The other two witnesses who testified were relatives of rice farmers who committed suicide during the Yingluck administration. They attested that their relatives had taken their own lives due to personal problems, not because of the sputtering payouts from the rice scheme.

Ms Yingluck said she still has 20 witnesses to present and wanted the court to extend the time frame for the hearing.

On Thursday, the court set the date of July 7 to continue hearing from defence witnesses.

The hearing is scheduled to conclude on July 21.

The rice pledging scheme, the Pheu Thai Party's major populist policy, allowed officials to buy paddy at guaranteed prices, which were 40% and 50% higher than global market prices, but was criticised for causing massive losses to the government.

Ms Yingluck was accused of dereliction of duty that led to damages estimated at 178 billion baht.

A panel formed to determine the compensation ruled the former premier must pay 35.7 billion baht, about 20% of the total, for her role in the affair.

A process to identify Ms Yingluck's assets for potential confiscation has got underway and will last for ten years, said Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

When the assets are found, "officials can seize or freeze them" during this period, he said.

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