BANGKOK (REUTERS) – The leader of Thailand’s military junta said on Thursday (Sept 28) that Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister he ousted three years ago, was in Dubai, having fled there last month to avoid being jailed over a rice subsidy scheme that lost billions of dollars.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the army chief who led the coup, said Thailand would pursue Yingluck through diplomatic channels and police cooperation using Interpol.
His remarks came a day after a court found Yingluck guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced her in absentia to five years in prison.
“She is in Dubai,” Prayut told reporters, adding that the foreign ministry has been tracking Yingluck’s movements. “The police will now have to proceed and coordinate with the Foreign Ministry and Interpol,” he added.
But a source in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday said Yingluck left Dubai for London on Sept 11, without providing further details.
The Supreme Court delayed giving its judgment last month after Yingluck failed to show in court and police discovered she had slipped out of the country.
The Thai authorities had not disclosed Yingluck’s whereabouts before, though senior members of her party had told Reuters that she had gone to Dubai where her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for graft, has a home.
Thai deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul declined to comment when asked by Reuters on Thursday whether Yingluck had left Dubai for London.
Thai police on Thursday raided Yingluck’s home in eastern Bangkok, armed with a search warrant. Around a dozen police from the forensics unit entered the large compound carrying gloves and metal boxes, to be met by a lawyer for Yingluck and one of her bodyguards.
Photographs posted on the photo-sharing app Instagram by one of Thaksin’s daughters show Thaksin in London since Sept 15. None of the photos feature Yingluck.
The power struggle between Thailand’s establishment – which includes the armed forces and urban middle class – and the Shinawatras has dominated Thai politics for over a decade.
The Shinawatras remain popular with rural and poor voters, and the rice subsidy scheme had helped Yingluck shore up her support base to get elected in 2011.
Throughout her trial, Yingluck said she was innocent and she was not responsible for the day-to-day running of the scheme, arguing that she was a victim of political persecution.
Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters that the government has been in contact with the United Arab Emirates about Yingluck. “Their government will take care that she won’t engage in politics,” Prawit said.
The ruling junta has promised to hold an election in 2018, though changes to the constitution has ensured the military holds onto some role governing the country.
Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party did not comment to Reuters on Prayut’s disclosure that Yingluck was in Dubai.