Thailand's attorney general on Thursday pressed criminal charges against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence related to her government's money-losing rice subsidy program, a move likely to prolong conflicts in a divided nation plagued by political turmoil and coups.
Prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General submitted 20 boxes of the case's documents to the Supreme Court's criminal division for political title holders, accusing Yingluck of dereliction in overseeing a rice subsidy program that lost billions of dollars and temporarily cost Thailand its crown as the world's top rice exporter.
The move is widely seen as another attempt to cripple the political machine of Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a coup in 2006, and to prevent his allies from returning to power.
Yingluck, the country’s first woman prime minister, was ousted by a court decision shortly before the military staged a coup last May and seized power from her elected government.
Thursday's accusations came one month after Yingluck was impeached on similar grounds by the military-appointed legislature, which means she was also banned from politics for five years.
The Supreme Court will set up a nine-judge panel, which will decide on March 19 whether to accept the case and formally indict Yingluck.
The same court in 2008 ruled to oust then-prime minister Samak Sundaravej for hosting television cooking shows after he took office.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission on Wednesday recommended that the Finance Ministry sue Yingluck for compensation for damage caused by the rice program and suggested the amount should be at least $18.4 billion.
The rice-buying program, a flagship policy that helped Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party win elections in 2011, had accumulated losses of at least $4.46 billion since it was introduced in 2011, as the Thai government stockpiled rice to avoid even bigger losses.
Under the program, farmers were paid about 50 percent above what they would get on the world market. The anti-graft body alleged that Yingluck failed to stop massive losses to state coffers.
Army rule has brought stability to Thailand but the junta's national reconciliation plan has failed to narrow political divisions. An election will be held early next year, the government says.