BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Supreme Court verdict on August 25 could
imprison former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for 10 years for
alleged "negligence" after she paid multi-billion dollar subsidies to
rice farmers before the military toppled her government in a 2014
   Weeping, wealthy and worried, Ms. Yingluck, 50, said she was
innocent of all allegations.
   Ms. Yingluck's case has gripped this Southeast Asian country
because a ruling either way could determine Thailand's future
stability under a junta trying to justify its regime and control her
supporters and opponents.
   The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) charged Ms. Yingluck
for allegedly failing to stop massive financial losses after her
government paid farmers -- her key constituents -- much more than the
international price for 20 million tons of rice, to boost their living
   During her 2011-14 administration, Ms. Yingluck hoped to sell that
rice at a profit after predicting the international price would zoom
higher, but prices dropped.
   Thailand had to sell the subsidized rice at a loss of $5 billion,
the court was told.
   The junta recently froze about $1 billion of her assets as possible
"compensation" toward the loss.
   That compensation case will be judged later.
   The August 25 verdict will also consider allegations that Ms.
Yingluck did not stop unidentified people intentionally labeling some
high-quality rice as low-value when the government purchased it, so
people could later profit by privately buying it from the government
and reselling it.
   Additionally, some low-grade rice was allegedly described as
expensive when the government purchased it, so people could pocket
higher prices when selling to the government.
   Other allegations involve a failure to stop thieves pilfering the
government's rice, the use of inefficient insecticides, and
falsification of documents.
   The trial heard testimony describing the subsidies as benefiting
mostly wealthy farmers, rice millers and dealers, and not many poor
   Many allegations however were never fully investigated or proven.
   Today, after two years of storage, the military government is still
trying to sell four million tons of "rotting rice" to make ethanol,
after selling much of the edible rice at a loss.
   "The rice-pledging [subsidy] scheme was a beneficial public
policy," a tearful Ms. Yingluck said on August 1 during her closing
   "I never neglected corruption in rice sales," she said, and had
ordered officials to investigate.
   A 57-word malfeasance law indicates officials who wrongfully,
dishonestly or neglectfully cause damage could be imprisoned for 10
years, fined, or both.
   If found guilty on August 25 by the Supreme Court's Criminal
Division for Holders of Political Positions, Ms. Yingluck may be able
to appeal to a different group of Supreme Court judges, but she could
be jailed during that convoluted process.
   More than a dozen other cases by the NACC are pending against Ms.
Yingluck for political, financial, and other alleged violations.
   All the alleged crimes occurred under her coalition government
which won a 2011 election but suffered when a Constitutional Court
ousted her in 2014.
   Two weeks later in May 2014, the U.S.-trained military staged a
bloodless coup against her remaining administration.
   A junta has ruled this Buddhist majority country ever since under
the authoritarian control of the coup leader, former Gen. Prayuth
Chan-ocha, who is now prime minister.
   "If Yingluck is ruled completely innocent, the 2014 coup would lose
any presumed legitimacy and in fact delegitimize the military's
continuing hold over Thailand because the military's rationale for
seizing power would weaken and fall," Paul Chambers, a lecturer in
Southeast Asian studies at Naresuan University in Phitsanulok, said in
an interview.
   "If the court rules against Yingluck and she goes to prison,
Thailand will likely become more staunchly divided with Yingluck's
sympathizers seeing her as a true martyr, and her opponents rejoicing.
Such civilian divisions will assist a more united military to persist
in power," Mr. Chambers said.
   Problems could also arise if Ms. Yingluck is found guilty and fined
but not imprisoned.
   "Yingluck's supporters would cry foul -- in a limited fashion --
and would see the ruling as a mere means of excluding Yingluck from
politics in the future.  Politicians found guilty of crimes cannot
participate in Thai politics in future. Her opponents would be
outraged," Mr. Chambers said.
   "There is corruption during the implementation of the rice-pledging
[subsidy] policy, but it is not entirely her fault," Titipol
Phakdeewanich, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University's political science
department said in an interview.
   "As a prime minister, she had to oversee the implementation of the
policy, but it is not quite reasonable to prosecute her.
   "I think the case is too politicized...the corruption against the
rice-pledging [subsidy] policy should be charged against those who are
corrupt, not against policy makers," Mr. Titipol said.
   "An acquittal would be a big embarrassment for Prayuth," said
Michael H. Nelson, who teaches in Ubon Ratchathani University's
political science department.
   If Ms. Yingluck does walk free, her problems are not over.
   "An acquittal would remove one of the major rhetorical points
against Yingluck, but in the immediate term it would have little
impact on the military government’s control over the country or
rationale for it, as the alleged corruption in the rice subsidies was
simply one of many charges leveled against Yingluck," Sam Zarifi,
Geneva-based secretary general of the International Commission of
Jurists (ICJ) said in an interview.
   "The most significant point about an acquittal -- if followed by
winning the civil liability [compensation] suit also filed against her
-- would be to unfreeze her considerable assets, which could then
potentially be brought to bear in future political campaigns," Mr.
Zarifi said.
   Thailand is a non-NATO treaty ally of the U.S., and President Trump
appears to support the military regime.
   "The appropriate role for the U.S., as any diplomatic mission, is
to push for respect for human rights and due process for all people in
   "The U.S. has been observing some trials of human rights defenders,
which is welcome. Beyond that, U.S. involvement in politics in
Thailand is complicated at this moment by the very confusing and
alarming signals sent by the U.S. [Trump] administration regarding
respect for human rights and international law, inside and outside the
U.S.," Mr. Zarifi said.
   Prime Minister Prayuth appears determined to destroy any political
future for Ms. Yingluck and her much more influential older brother,
Thaksin Shinawatra, who was premier from 2001 to 2005 before being
toppled in a 2006 military coup.
   Mr. Thaksin lives in self-exile dodging a two-year prison sentence
for corruption committed during his administration.
    If Mr. Thaksin or Ms. Yingluck were to compete in a popularity
contest against Mr. Prayuth -- impossible under the current situation
-- many analysts predict Mr. Prayuth would lose.
   Mr. Prayuth however enjoys widespread support in Bangkok and the
south and also among royalists, the military, many wealthy and
middle-class Thais and others.
   The Shinawatra siblings are backed by others among the elite but
especially by lower classes who benefited from their governments' easy
loans, inexpensive health care and subsidies, especially in the north
and northeast.
   On both sides, "these are very powerful elites fighting for
tremendous power and wealth, with the rights of the vast majority of
Thais invoked only when politically expedient," Mr. Zarifi said.