Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

Thailand's former PM pleads not guilty to rice subsidy scheme

Ousted premier faces 10 years in prison for dereliction of duty, a charge supporters say is politically motivated

Thailand's former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday at the start of a trial that could have her jailed for a decade, which critics say is part of a politically motivated campaign against her family.

Supporters chanted “Yingluck! Yingluck!” as the ex-premier entered the Supreme Court in Bangkok to be formally read the charges against her of dereliction of duty in overseeing a rice subsidy scheme that lost billions of dollars.

“I am confident in my innocence,” Yingluck told reporters. “I hope the court will grant me justice, and that everything will go according to due process under the law.”

Yingluck posted bail set at $900,000, or 30 million baht, and was ordered by the court not to travel outside Thailand without permission during her trial. The next hearing was set for July 21.

Yingluck was ousted from her post as prime minister by a court decision that came two weeks before the military staged a coup last May.

She is being charged with dereliction in overseeing the controversial rice subsidy program, which temporarily cost Thailand its crown as the world's top exporter. The same charges also led to her impeachment in January by the military-appointed legislature, which banned her from politics for five years.

Yingluck faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, a ruling that would deepen the country's decade-long political crisis.

Also on Tuesday, Thailand's junta delayed a general election by at least six months, hours after Yingluck’s travel ban, raising questions about a promised return to democracy.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, installed after the May coup, told reporters that the polls would take place in August 2016 at the earliest to allow for a referendum on the new constitution.

“It will take place around August or in September,” he said. The military government had previously said voting would take place in February 2016.

Yingluck’s supporters see the case against her as part of an attempt by the pro-establishment elite to dismantle the political legacy of her family, which has repeatedly won landslide victories in several general elections over the last decade.

Thailand has been plagued by political turmoil that boiled over after the army ousted Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 coup. That coup was part of a societal schism that in broad terms pit the majority rural poor, who back the Shinawatras, against an urban-based elite establishment supported by the army and staunch royalists who see Yingluck's family as a corrupt threat to the traditional structures of power.

Yingluck's opponents argue the Shinawatras have used their electoral majority for personal enrichment and to subvert democracy.

Wire services

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