BANGKOK, Thailand -- Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's
"Great Escape" from Thailand last week allows her to dodge a possible
10-year prison sentence and enjoy a billionaire's international
lifestyle, but she gave the military government, which toppled her in
a 2014 coup, a surprise victory.
   Her sudden, secret flight overseas means the junta will not be
troubled by her supporters' scenario of a Ms. Yingluck cast as a
woeful, politically victimized, jailed martyr for democracy.
   Her absence also decapitates her shocked Pheu Thai ("For Thais")
opposition party which attracted millions of "Red Shirt" voters.
   Today, the two biggest questions in this Southeast Asian country were:
   Who enabled Ms. Yingluck to become a mysterious fugitive hours or
days before the Supreme Court's verdict was to be announced on August
   And will Ms. Yingluck, 50, ask for political asylum in England if
she goes there?
   Thai media, investigating her escape, splashed accusations and
official denials of conspiracies, corruption, double-standards and
other sleaze.
   "What is puzzling about this high drama is that none of the junta
members, including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Deputy Prime
Minister Prawit Wongsuwon -- who are in charge of security affairs --
caught wind of Ms. Yingluck's escape," columnist Veera Prateepchaikul
wrote on August 28.
   "I, for one, don't believe it."
   Such suspicions must not be expressed, the junta's spokesman
Winthai Suvari warned.
   "No one should attempt to give his or her opinions that may confuse
society, because that can lead to misunderstanding about a person or
an organization," Mr. Winthai said, responding to speculation about
the regime's role in Ms. Yingluck's vanishing act.
   After the U.S.-trained military toppled her government in 2014, she
was charged with alleged "negligence" while prime minister for
orchestrating multi-billion dollar subsidies to rice farmers which
collapsed into accusations of corruption by officials under her.
   If found guilty, she faced up to 10 years imprisonment.
   When she failed to appear for the verdict on August 25, the Supreme
Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions
immediately issued an arrest warrant for Ms. Yingluck and postponed
its verdict until September 27.
   "We do not know where Yingluck fled and if she has asked for asylum
anywhere," Mr. Prawit, who is also defense minister, told reporters.
   Ms. Yingluck purportedly joined her multi-billionaire Dubai-based
elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra who fled into self-exile in 2008.
   He is dodging a two-year prison sentence for a real estate crime
committed when he was prime minister, before the military ousted him
in a 2006 coup.
   It is unclear, and widely debated, whether or not the junta wants
to extradite Ms. Yingluck's return.
   Many people on all sides are simply relieved and thankful that the
confrontation between Ms. Yingluck and the junta has been defused.
   Thailand's often-violent political and financial rivalries between
the Shinawatra family and the elite who support the royalist military
have crippled this once-thriving Buddhist majority country.
   After she fled, the Bangkok Post's front-page announced: "The Great
Escape, End of Shinawatra Era."
   But the manipulative, charismatic siblings remain hugely popular
and would probably win a nationwide election if they could
participate, so their future influence is difficult to predict.
   Some of her supporters are angry because several of her top
political colleagues were sentenced to decades of imprisonment by the
same court while she was flying away.
   The Supreme Court on August 25 sentenced her former Commerce
Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years imprisonment for corrupt
invoices and deals involving the subsidized rice.
   Mr. Boonsong expressed surprise upon hearing that Ms. Yingluck fled.
   The Supreme Court gave Ms. Yingluck's former Deputy Commerce
Minister Poom Sarapol a 36-year prison sentence for the same crimes.
   More than a dozen other officials linked to the rice subsidies were
also imprisoned on August 25 for lengthy terms, including a Foreign
Trade Department official jailed for 40 years, his deputy who was
sentenced to 32 years, and a Rice Trade Administration Bureau director
jailed for 24 years.
   The regime's "post-coup purge" is a plot to "entrench the power of
the establishment, namely the military, the technocrats, the
bureaucracy, the old power clique, and the well-connected business
circles," said Kong Rithdee, a Bangkok Post editor.
   "Even a general election won't be able to alter that," Mr. Kong
wrote hours after Ms. Yingluck disappeared.
   Some of Ms. Yingluck's harshest enemies angrily blamed the junta
for enabling her escape or failing to prevent it.
   "Unless the [junta] can find and punish the wrongdoers, the deputy
prime minister [Mr. Prawit] must resign," said Parnthep Pourpongpan,
former spokesman of the defunct People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD),
also known as royalist "Yellow Shirts," who helped overthrow Ms.
   "If she could escape, that was either a conspiracy or an
unforgivable failure," Mr. Parnthep said.
   It was especially galling and unfair because several PAD leaders
were jailed for their political activity against various
Shinawatra-led governments, he said.
   But some of the Shinawatras' economic policies
remain viable.
   "The most powerful person who controls the Thai economy,
ironically, is the former salesman and former economic minister under
Thaksin, Dr. Somkit Srisangkom, who together with this regime have
forced the country's economy to come under control of a handful of
oligarchs in a matter three years," Kraisak Choonhavan, an
anti-Thaksin former Democrat Party deputy leader and former elected
independent senator said in an interview.
   Ms. Yingluck's government promised to pay rice farmers much more
than the international market price for their rice crops.
   Those subsidies cost Thailand billions of dollars for millions of
tons of rice, prompting allegations of false invoicing, poor storage,
smuggling and other crimes which the National Anti-Corruption
Commission said she should have stopped.
   Ms. Yingluck denied wrongdoing and swore she ordered underlings to
probe those problems during her 2011-14 administration.
   To "compensate" for part of the losses, the junta recently froze
about $1 billion of her assets.
   She forfeited nearly $1 million in bail when she fled.