Hunt for fugitive former Thai prime minister Yingluck focuses on six countries

A supporter holds a photograph of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra after she failed to appear to hear her verdict at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions in Bangkok, on Aug 25, 2017.
A supporter holds a photograph of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra after she failed to appear to hear her verdict at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions in Bangkok, on Aug 25, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thai authorities have contacted Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates in the hunt for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra as they believe she travelled through one of the countries to escape.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday (Aug 29) said that the Foreign Ministry has sought cooperation through diplomatic channels with the six countries and checked immigration points along Thai borders to find Yingluck, who fled from the Kingdom shortly before the verdict was announced on her rice-pledging scheme case last week.

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

Yingluck's current whereabouts remains a mystery since she failed to show up at the Supreme Court last Friday to hear a final ruling on her charge of allegedly neglecting irregularities in the rice-pledging scheme that caused thousands-of-billions-baht damage to the national budget.

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 Shinawatra, who was toppled by a coup in 2006 and now lives in exile in Dubai.

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

The army chief said he believed Yingluck had left the country, even though there was no clear evidence that she had done so. He admitted her escape exposed a flaw in the operations of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Army, which oversees security matters and the border.

USEFUL DISCUSSIONS

Police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said that the officers would talk to at least 14 people who reportedly met Yingluck at a hotel in Bangkok before she fled the country.

Police earlier questioned her bodyguards, including Pol Colonel Watanyu Wittayaphalothai, who has provided security to the Shinawatra family's political office holders since the premiership of Yingluck's brother Thaksin.

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

Immigration police have checked all possible departure points, including airports, but had found no clues to how she managed to slip out of the country.

Thai police have contacted Interpol, which is represented in more than 190 countries, but so far have not yet received any replies.

Prayut and Chalermchai reiterated that junta officials, who watched Yingluck's movements, did not take part or facilitate her escape. "I do not see any benefit (for the NCPO). We are now blamed. PM Prayut calls me every day to expedite efforts to locate her," the Army chief said.

Prayut said: "You people kept grumbling that we violated human rights by keeping a close watch on her, so now don't complain. I regret we are being blamed for letting her go, which is not true."

All officers found to have helped Yingluck escape will be prosecuted, he added.

"There must be a legal way to prosecute her eventually," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said he was not involved in Yingluck's escape, adding that he never knew her in person.

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

While Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said that the ministry needs to be approached by the police to proceed with the revocation, police chief Chakthip said that 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," Chakthip said.