Former Thai PM Yingluck may face $25 billion lawsuit from ministry over rice scheme losses

The Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission has said it will recommend the Finance Ministry file a 600 billion baht (S$25 billion) lawsuit against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra over the controversial rice-pledging scheme. -- PHOTO: REUTE
The Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission has said it will recommend the Finance Ministry file a 600 billion baht (S$25 billion) lawsuit against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra over the controversial rice-pledging scheme. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) resolved yesterday that it will recommend for the Finance Ministry to sue former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for about 600 billion baht (S$25 billion) in damages - for failing to stop massive losses to state coffers incurred by her government's controversial rice-pledging scheme.

NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran stressed that the anti-graft agency was not going after anyone in particular. The compensation figure included an estimate of the loss in value of rice that degraded while stored for a long time under the scheme. And the Finance Ministry has that figure, he said.

The ministry would have to consider whether there might be others who should also be held responsible, he said.

The claim should not be lower than 600 billion baht, as that was in line with the damage assessment by the NACC, which concluded with the third round of the rice project, he said.

Yingluck was derelict in performing her duties as both prime minister and chairman of the National Rice Policy Committee in handling the rice-pledging scheme, he said.

The Finance Ministry had no choice but to act on the advice of the NACC because the law stipulates that the anti-graft agency makes a recommendation to a state agency that suffers corruption-related damage and because the Finance Ministry was the guarantor of all rice under the scheme, they had to take legal action, he said.

Asked if he was worried that the NACC would be viewed as aiming at Yingluck in particular, Mr Panthep said the anti-graft officials had discussed this at their meeting, but said "what else could the NACC do?" - such action was required in the law governing the body.

The anti-graft agency would have to keep on trying to explain the matter till people understood - but he believed many people do.

"I insist that we act in accordance with the law. If there is still a lack of understanding, then we will have to keep on explaining until it is understood. It is believe that many understand.

"Nevertheless, the law did not state the timeframe for the Finance Ministry to take action. But the Finance Ministry is prepared and could probably move on it right away," he said.

The Attorney-General's Office has asked Yingluck to report to it tomorrow so that prosecutors can indict her at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders for allegedly failing to stop corruption and huge losses to the treasury from the rice-subsidy scheme.

The National Legislative Assembly voted last month to impeach her for the same charges.

Mr Norawit Lalang, Yingluck's lawyer, said his client was ready to fight the case in court and would not flee the country or seek political asylum.

Last week, United States diplomats rejected reports that Yingluck had sought asylum in the US.

Mr Norawit said Yingluck was not legally required to be present in the courtroom when prosecutors charge her and he was waiting for Yingluck's decision on whether to appear in court.

"Even if she does not report tomorrow, that would not affect the case because no regulation stipulates that she must be there.

"If the Supreme Court accepts the case and schedules the first hearing, she must be present on that day, otherwise the case would be adversely affected," he said.

A team of lawyers would brief her on the details of the case again.