Critics of former Thai PM Yingluck trying to discredit her with escape rumours: Lawyer

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Opponents of former Thai leader Yingluck Shinawatra were trying to discredit her by spreading false rumours that she would flee abroad before she is due to face criminal charges in court later this month, her lawyer said on Wednesday.

Her lawyer Norawit Laleng said Yingluck was planning to fight the charges in person, even though Thai law does not stipulate that she needs to present for the subpoena.

Rumours that Yingluck would flee were being spread by her critics to jolt the military into action, Mr Norawit told Reuters. "If she had a plan to flee she would not have publicly asked for permission to go abroad," he said.

Yingluck had hoped to travel to Hong Kong from Sunday until Feb 22. "The opposition is trying to make out that she wants to flee abroad in order to discredit her," Mr Norawit said. "This is simply not true."

Thailand's military government denied Yingluck permission to travel overseas on Sunday to ensure she is in the country to face the criminal charges. She faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.

Yingluck became Thailand's first female prime minister in July 2011, but was removed from office days before a May 2014 coup led by then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. That followed months of street protests in Bangkok against her government.

Last month, she was banned from politics for five years over her role in a state rice-buying scheme, which had won her many voters in the rural heartland but which cost Thailand billions of dollars in losses.

Ms Yingluck, the sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was also indicted on criminal charges over the scheme, charges her supporters say were aimed at crippling her powerful family's political influence.

Thailand's attorney-general will submit a subpoena to the Supreme Court on Feb 19 and wants Ms Yingluck to be present.

The charges are the latest twist in 10 years of turbulent politics that have pitted Yingluck and her brother against the royalist military establishment that sees the Shinawatras as a threat and reviles their populist policies.

Thaksin, who remains hugely influential in Thailand, was ousted in a coup in 2006 and fled into exile to avoid jail over a corruption conviction two years later on charges he says were politically motivated.