Yingluck 'fled to Dubai' before verdict

Thailand's former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled to Dubai, according to senior members of her party.
Yingluck Shinawatra and son Supasek Amornchat at Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2014. The former premier left her only child in the care of her businessman husband last week before leaving the country, said a source.
Yingluck Shinawatra and son Supasek Amornchat at Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2014. The former premier left her only child in the care of her businessman husband last week before leaving the country, said a source.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ex-prime minister believed to have left Thailand on Wednesday, leaving son behind, says report

"Please don't leave him."

Those were apparently the last words from Thailand's ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a close aide, trying to make sure her son was cared for, before she left Thailand ahead of the court verdict on her criminal negligence trial.

Citing an anonymous source, Thai magazine Matichon Weekly said Yingluck departed from Thailand under a blanket of secrecy earlier last week, leaving 15-year-old son Supasek Amornchat with her businessman husband.

Yingluck's only child, like his mother, is mobbed by supporters when the duo attend public events. Mother and son are close.

Various unconfirmed reports in Thai media say she crossed the land border into Cambodia last Wednesday evening, before taking a flight - possibly on a private plane - to Singapore and then onward to Dubai, where her billionaire brother and former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra keeps a home, while living in self-imposed exile.

An Agence France-Presse report citing an unnamed source in the ruling junta claimed Yingluck may try to seek asylum in Britain.

Senior members of her Puea Thai party were tight-lipped yesterday, asking for time to regroup after her no-show at Thailand's Supreme Court last Friday to hear the judgment on her alleged negligence in handling her government's multi-billion-dollar rice subsidy scheme.

It left state warehouses overflowing with paddy that was bought at some 50 per cent above market prices, and infuriated the Bangkok middle class. Critics say the scheme reeked of corruption.

Yingluck, ousted shortly before the 2014 military coup, could have been jailed for up to 10 years, if found guilty. Supporters denounced her case as political persecution designed to drive the Shinawatra family out of politics.

They braced themselves for the worst last Friday, massing on the street outside the courthouse with stickers of crab plastered on their faces. Yingluck's nickname is "Pu", which means crab in Thai.

Two of Yingluck's siblings, Payap and Monthathip, were in court last Friday morning alongside other Puea Thai bigwigs to await the verdict.

News that she had disappeared - triggering an arrest warrant from the court - was greeted with both surprise and relief.

"They felt shocked… But they would rather she be absent than in jail," former Puea Thai parliamentarian Toungrat Lohsoonthorn told The Sunday Times.

Her disappearance sparked speculation that she had cut a deal with Thailand's ruling junta, which would have had to grapple with a high-profile martyr figure in Thailand's most powerful political party, should she have been jailed.

But deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who oversees security matters, denied any deal had been done. The verdict for her case is now scheduled to be read on Sept 27.

Yingluck, who has some six million followers on Facebook, kept up an active presence on the social media website ahead of her flight. In a ceremony highlighted last Wednesday morning, she offered dishes like sticky rice with longan, chicken wings and rice noodles to Buddhist monks at her Bangkok home. On the same day, she visited the capital's Rakang Temple.

As the nation reeled from news of her departure, there was mixed sentiment, at least online, about her decision. Anti-junta activist Jom Petchpradab who is now in exile in the United States, wrote on Facebook: "I feel like I was cheated… I understand her decision to flee. I fled too. But there were no expectations of me."

But supporters flooded Yingluck's Facebook page with messages of concern.

"Wherever you are, may you and your loved ones be protected," a supporter said. "Wherever you live, may you be happy and healthy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Yingluck 'fled to Dubai' before verdict'. Print Edition | Subscribe