BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand's ruling junta has said it did not allow former premier Yingluck Shinawatra to flee the country.
Colonel Winthai Suvaree, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said this on Sunday (Aug 27) amid growing criticism of the government's handling of the controversial case, especially with regard to Yingluck's disappearance ahead of the Supreme Court's sentencing last Friday in the rice subsidy case.
Lt-General Weerachon Sukon-patipak, deputy government spokesman, said the Foreign Ministry was taking steps to revoke the ex-premier's passport.
However, he said there was no official confirmation of Yingluck's whereabouts at this stage amid unconfirmed reports that she was seeking asylum in the United Kingdom after fleeing Thailand before the verdict reading.
National security sources said 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 punishment.
At this stage, it remains unclear how Yingluck's disappearance could affect the domestic political scene.
One possibility is that her Pheu Thai Party will resort to its previous strategy used following Thaksin Shinawatra's disappearance just before his court sentencing several years ago, in which the party tried to capitalise on claims of injustice in the country, which was then also ruled by a military-led government.
Regarding Pheu Thai Party's leadership, sources said Khunying Sudarat Keyurapun was tipped as a top candidate to lead the party following Yingluck's disappearance, which could have an impact on the party's image and grassroots support.
Meanwhile, Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association of Thai Constitution Protection Organisation, said the group would petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission regarding senior government officials' failure to prevent Yingluck from fleeing the country.
Srisuwan said allowing Yingluck to escape demonstrated negligence of official duties under the anti-graft and related laws and Deputy Premier and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and national police chief Pol General Chaktip Chaijinda must be held accountable.
Meanwhile, prison authorities allowed relatives to visit former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and others convicted in the case of bogus government-to-government rice export deals.
Boonsong and former deputy commerce minister Phumi Saraphol were sentenced to 42 and 36 years respectively last Friday for causing 16 billion baht (S$650 million) in financial damage to the state.
Boonsong's lawyers are preparing to seek a temporary release of the ex-commerce minister, who plans to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court. Under the current Constitution, both defendants and plaintiffs can seek a review of judgments regardless of whether there is new evidence.
Previously, Boonsong's lawyers presented a 30-million-baht guarantee to the court to bail out the ex-minister, but his release was not approved last Friday.
Lawyers said relatives were ready to provide more financial guarantees if the court considers granting approval for the temporary release.