BANGKOK • Thailand's ruling junta yesterday said it did not allow former premier Yingluck Shinawatra to flee the country ahead of the Supreme Court's verdict last Friday on whether she was negligent in a controversial rice subsidy scheme.
Colonel Winthai Suvaree, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order, had denied on Sunday speculation that a deal was struck to allow Yingluck to escape, amid growing criticism of the government's handling of the controversial case.
The ousted former prime minister's whereabouts remain unknown, with unconfirmed media reports saying she first fled overland to Cambodia, and variously placing her in Dubai, Singapore or Britain.
"We don't know where Yingluck fled and whether she has asked for asylum anywhere," Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also a Deputy Prime Minister, said.
Yingluck was often followed by plainclothes police, her aides said. Critics are now asking how a person under close scrutiny by security forces could leave the country without being noticed.
National security sources said the authorities had previously focused on the consequences of a guilty verdict in the Yingluck case more than the probability that she would flee the country to avoid possible imprisonment of up to 10 years.
When contacted, Singapore's Immigration & Checkpoints Authority said last Friday that it did not comment on travel movements of individuals as a matter of policy. The Straits Times understands that Yingluck was not in Singapore as of last Friday and, at the time, had not entered the country in recent days.
The Bangkok Post cited anonymous sources as saying Yingluck got help securing a Cambodian passport in order to travel to Singapore in a private jet and later fly to Dubai, where her older brother - Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in 2006 - is believed to be living in self-imposed exile.
But Cambodian officials on Sunday dismissed these reports as "rumours", saying they had "no record" of such activity.
The same day, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen denied that Yingluck had used the country to flee Thailand.
Yingluck's aides say they believed she had intended to stay for the verdict as at last Wednesday, when she made offerings of sticky rice and fruit at a Bangkok temple. But by Thursday afternoon, she had left. "She chose to leave because she heard from her sources that the court would give her a heavy sentence and would not grant her bail," a source told Reuters. "She's not a last-minute person. She always plans things very carefully. This was a last-minute decision."
The Supreme Court issued a warrant for her arrest last Friday. Sentencing in Yingluck's case has been moved to Sept 27, and is expected to be delivered in absentia.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, THE PHNOM PENH POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS