BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Supreme Court sentenced fugitive former Prime
Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to five years in prison on September 27
after ruling in absentia she was guilty of negligence for not stopping
alleged corruption costing billions of dollars during her failed rice
crop subsidies.
   The military junta, which ousted Ms. Yingluck in a bloodless 2014
coup, is now using "spies" to track her after she missed a court
ruling on August 25 and reportedly smuggled herself out of Thailand
with the help of police, decoy cars and a black surgical face mask.
   Ms. Yingluck, 50, has not been seen in public since.
   "She has not yet applied for political asylum and I don't know
whether she will be able to get it," coup-installed Prime Minister
Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on September 26 amid speculation that
Ms. Yingluck was trying for asylum in England.
   "I know [her whereabouts]...I have spies," said Mr. Prayuth who led
the 2014 coup when he was army chief.
   Before disappearing, she insisted on her innocence and portrayed
herself as a political victim.
   To "compensate" the government for part of the multi-billion dollar
losses caused by her rice subsidies, the junta recently froze about $1
billion of her assets.
   She forfeited an additional $1 million in bail when she fled.
   Ms. Yingluck reportedly joined her wealthy brother former Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is living out a similar fate after
being toppled by the military in a 2006 coup in which Mr. Prayuth also
   Mr. Thaksin is currently dodging a two-year prison sentence for a
corrupt real estate deal involving his now-divorced wife.
   The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political
Positions did not find Ms. Yingluck guilty of corruption but instead
for failing to stop alleged corruption by others, including rice
millers, warehouse operators, rice traders and her own government
   Ms. Yingluck's government bought Thai farmers' rice crops when
international prices were low and stockpiled it in massive warehouses.
   She promised to pay the farmers much higher prices, amid
expectation that worldwide prices would rise due to shortages caused
by Thailand's rice not appearing on the market.
   But international prices continued to go down and her government
suffered huge losses.
   One of the subsidies' fake deals involved former Commerce Minister
Boonsong Teriyapirom who received a 42-year prison sentence for a
"government-to-government" rice deal reportedly between Thailand and
China which did not exist.
   Money went missing amid allegations that Thais pretended to
represent Chinese officials.
   Mr. Boonsong was sentenced on August 25 when the court was
scheduled to also announce Ms. Yingluck's verdict.
   After Ms. Yingluck ditched her appearance, the court postponed her
verdict until September 27.
   The National Anti-Corruption Commission along with opposition
politicians, academics, local media and others repeatedly warned Ms.
Yingluck during her 2011-14 administration that her rice subsidies
were riddled with alleged theft, fake receipts, false inventory,
bribery and other expensive flaws.
   "Importantly, there had been corruption in every step of the
price-pledging [subsidies] program," said the court in an
English-language summary.
   "Members of the House of Representatives, scholars, press and
public had sent letters, debated and provided opinion about corruption
about every step of the rice-pledging program," it said.
   Ms. Yingluck was deemed guilty of negligence -- also described as
malfeasance and dereliction of duty -- for knowingly ignoring those
warnings, the court said.
   Her punishment was Thailand's first case under a recently crafted
law which could have resulted in 10 years imprisonment.
   "The defendant should have designated reasonable and effective
regulations that could concretely prevent loss from the beginning of
the program."
   Instead, Ms. Yingluck did "the contrary."
   Her actions contributed "to huge loss to farmers, the state budget,
Ministry of Finance, the country and the people," the court said.
   Supporters who boosted Ms. Yingluck, her brother and their
candidates to power are now scrambling to decide if they should
continue following the guidance of the Shinawatra siblings while they
remain in self-exile, or find new local leaders who can oppose the
well-entrenched military government.