Sakchai Lalit/AP

Thailand launches corruption probe against ousted PM Yingluck

Investigation comes after last month's coup and involves former prime minister's controversial rice subsidy program

Thailand's anti-corruption agency said Thursday it will investigate the assets of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and four members of her Cabinet involved in a controversial rice subsidy program. A military coup toppled Yingluck's government last month amid worsening political deadlock and massive street protests by the government’s critics and supporters.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission had already indicted Yingluck over charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing the rice subsidy program, charging that she had failed to heed advice that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption. In an earlier ruling, the commission said it was unclear whether Yingluck herself was involved in the corruption or had allowed it to take place.

The commission’s brief announcement said three former commerce ministers and a former deputy commerce minister would also be investigated.

The commission is known for having made several significant rulings against Yingluck and her government, and many of her supporters suspect this was part of a conspiracy to oust her from office. Yingluck's government was overthrown in a May 22 military coup.

Yingluck's subsidy program bought rice from farmers at above-market prices. As the world's top rice exporter, Thailand had hoped to control the market and push up prices. But India and Vietnam increased exports, which prompted stockpiling by Thailand as it tried to contain losses from its subsidy program. The program incurred huge financial losses for the government, though there is no reliable estimate of the total.

Yingluck's critics denounced the program as being designed to win votes. It became a political weapon when protests began against her last November and successfully pressured banks not to lend to the government, delaying payments to farmers.

The military toppled Yingluck’s government last month after mass protests forced government ministries to close, hurt business confidence and caused the economy to shrink. Yingluck and several of her Cabinet members had already been removed from office on May 7 by the Constitutional Court over charges that she had abused her authority in approving the transfer of a high-level civil servant.

The protests pitted anti-government protesters, or “Yellow Shirts,” against the “Red Shirts,” supported and funded by Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a previous coup in 2006. Anti-government protesters have accused Yingluck of being a puppet of Thaksin, a billionaire who has lived in exile in Dubai since his ouster.

Yingluck's supporters believe that independent agencies such as the commission investigating her for corruption are aligned with Thailand's conservative ruling class — led by the royalist Yellow Shirts and the military. Thaksin faced similar treatment by the commission after his ouster. 

Yingluck's current location is not known.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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