Thailand's Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Friday (Aug 25) after she failed to turn up to hear the verdict in a criminal negligence case against her over a government rice subsidy scheme.
Her lawyer told the court that she could not turn up because she was ill, but did not produce a doctor's note. The court found that she had the intention to flee and ordered her arrest. It also ordered the confiscation of the 30-million-baht (S$1.22 million) bail she had posted.
The hearing has now been postponed to Sept 27.
Siam University law academic Ekachai Chainuvati, who has been observing the case closely, told The Straits Times: "Whenever and whoever in an official capacity finds Yingluck in any place, he can arrest her on the scene immediately. So, this warrant is to bring her to court, to hear the decision of the court."
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters it was possible that Yingluck had left Thailand.
Thailand's first woman prime minister faces up to 10 years in jail for her alleged mishandling of the government's rice pledging scheme, under which the state bought unlimited quantities of paddy from farmers at about 50 per cent above market prices.
While this propped up farmers' incomes, it saddled government warehouses with about 18 million tonnes of paddy by the time the Puea Thai party-led government was toppled by a military coup in 2014.
On Friday, the court found former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom guilty of corruption in a 2013 deal to sell stockpiled rice to the Chinese government, which Thailand's national anti-graft body later declared bogus.
He was sentenced to 42 years in prison. In addition, his former deputy Poom Sarapol was given 36 years' jail for the same offence.
Hundreds of supporters, many from places as far away as Lampang and Kampaeng Phet, turned up on Friday morning by the courthouse just outside Bangkok, but were kept at a distance by extensive barricades and hordes of policemen.
The crowds remained despite brief showers and cars slowed down on the busy road outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Yingluck's convoy, which did not appear.
Yingluck on Thursday urged supporters not to turn up for fear of possible confrontations.
Yingluck became Thailand's first female prime minister after Puea Thai's landslide victory in 2011 elections. Critics, however, saw her as a proxy of her brother and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives abroad to evade a jail sentence.
Puea Thai's rice-pledging policy infuriated Bangkok's middle class, who took to the streets in large numbers three years ago to cripple its government and pave the way for a military takeover.
Since then, the junta has put Puea Thai's extensive countrywide support networks under close surveillance.
Yingluck defied expectations by remaining in Thailand after the coup. She was retroactively impeached in 2015 by a military-appointed assembly and had a five-year ban from politics slapped on her.
Nevertheless, she remains Puea Thai's most visible and popular personality in the country, drawing hordes of supporters whenever she travels around the country trailed by party members.
Her bank accounts have been frozen after the military government tried to fine her some 35 billion baht for losses incurred in the rice scheme. The former business executive declared just 610 million baht in assets in 2015.
Senior Puea Thai members who were gathered at the courthouse to give her support when the verdict was deleivered were at a loss for words over her no-show.
"I don't know what to say," said Mr Choosak Sirinin, the head of Puea Thai's legal team. "We are going back to our party now to discuss the situation."