Hunt for Yingluck focuses on six countries

A woman holding an image of former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin, in this photo taken on Aug 5, before Yingluck arrived at the Supreme Court in Bangkok for her criminal negligence case.
A woman holding an image of former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin, in this photo taken on Aug 5, before Yingluck arrived at the Supreme Court in Bangkok for her criminal negligence case.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Bangkok seeking their cooperation, checking immigration points along Thai borders

BANGKOK • The Thai authorities have contacted Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates in the hunt for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday that the Foreign Ministry has sought cooperation from the six countries and checked immigration points along Thai borders to find Yingluck. She failed to turn up in court last Friday to hear the verdict in a criminal negligence case in connection with a rice subsidy scheme for farmers while she was in office before being ousted by the military in 2014. She could have been jailed for up to 10 years.

PM Prayut said Thailand did not contact Britain - where Yingluck is said to have sought political asylum - as he doubted she would qualify for that status.

Yingluck's current whereabouts remain a mystery but she is widely reported to have fled her homeland.

The army chief, General Chalermchai Sitthisat, said he believed Yingluck's escape was well planned with advance preparations made with the help of her brother Thaksin, a former prime minister who was also toppled by a coup and now lives in exile in Dubai.

Thaksin fled overseas in 2008, two years after the coup that toppled him, to escape a graft conviction he says was politically motivated.

"Unlike ordinary people, Yingluck had the potential to escape by herself. Her brother could prepare facilities for her, such as a private jet," the army chief said, adding that she discarded her mobile phone and stopped using her usual vehicle for travelling shortly before her disappearance.

Gen Chalermchai said he believed Yingluck had left the country, even though there was no clear evidence she had done so. He admitted her escape exposed a flaw in the operations of the junta, called the National Council for Peace and Order, and the army, which oversees security matters and the border.

Police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has said his officers would interview at least 14 people who were reported to have met Yingluck at a hotel in Bangkok before she went missing. Police had earlier questioned her bodyguard, Police Colonel Watanyu Wittayaphalothai, who has provided security to the Shinawatra family's political office holders since Thaksin was premier.

Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsipramanakul said he met Col Watanyu on Monday. He said it was a useful discussion but he could not disclose any details.

Thai police have contacted Interpol, but so far have not yet received any replies.

PM Prayut and Gen Chalermchai reiterated that junta officials, who watched Yingluck's movements, did not take part in or facilitate her escape and the prime minister said anyone found to have helped her would be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry and security officials have dodged questions on who would be responsible to decide on the revocation of Yingluck's Thai passport.

While Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said police had to make the first move and approach the ministry, police chief Chakthip said the ministry should take care of the matter itself.

"These kinds of things don't need an order to proceed. If it is their duty, it can be proceeded with at once," he said.

THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Hunt for Yingluck focuses on six countries'. Print Edition | Subscribe