Thai anti-graft body indicts ex-PM

Anti-government protesters carry signs against ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as they march in central Bangkok on May 8, 2014. Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission found former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra guilty of negligen
Anti-government protesters carry signs against ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as they march in central Bangkok on May 8, 2014. Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission found former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra guilty of negligence on Thursday over a financially ruinous state rice-buying scheme and she now faces a ban from politics after a Senate hearing. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Thailand’s former caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was on Thursday indicted by the nation’s anti-graft body for negligence in a state rice purchase scheme, putting her at risk of impeachment by the Senate.

Ms Yingluck was on Wednesday forced out of office by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that she had abused her power to benefit a relative in a 2011 transfer of a senior official.

Nine other ministers were relieved of their duties too.

The decision on Thursday by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, however, means that she could be banned from politics for five years if three-fifths of the 150-member Senate choose to impeach her.

The verdict also means that there could be criminal proceedings against Ms Yingluck.

Thursday’s case centres on a three-year-old rice purchase scheme as part of which the government bought rice from farmers at about 50 per cent above the market price to boost their incomes.

The scheme was a key campaign pledge by Ms Yingluck’s Puea Thai party in the 2011 elections, in which it won a landslide victory.

The scheme, however, caused 136 billion baht () in losses in 2011-2012 crop year and the kingdom lost its position as the world’s top rice exporter.

Ms Yingluck, who was nominally head of the National Rice Policy Committee, was judged to be negligent by the anti-graft commission.

Thursday’s decision is expected to raise tensions in Thailand’s six month long political crisis, the latest bout in an eight-year-old power struggle that pits the country’s royalist establishment and urban middle class against supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The former telecommunications tycoon – the brother of Ms Yingluck -  was ousted in 2006 coup and lives abroad to evade a corruption-related jail sentence.

The country has been struggling without a House of Representatives since it was dissolved on Dec 9, as the Feb 2 election was sabotaged by the anti-government groups and later annulled by the Constitutional Court.

Ms Yingluck is the third Thaksin-linked premier to be booted out by the court in six years.

Puea Thai’s supporters allege that the country’s courts and independent organisations are conspiring to seize power and put in place an appointed administration.

tanhy@sph.com.sg