Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra fled Thailand for Dubai two days before a verdict was due to be delivered in a trial over rice subsidies, a highly-placed source in her Pheu Thai party said Friday.
Yingluck left Thailand on Wednesday and is now “safe and sound” in Dubai, the source said. She was due to appear in court Friday but a warrant was issued for her arrest after she failed to show up.
Yingluck’s brother Thaksin, who is also a former Thai Prime Minister, lives in Dubai and London in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges.
Senior police official Gen. Sriwara Rangsibhramakul told CNN that there was no official record of Yingluck leaving the country, which would suggest she slipped into a neighboring country first by crossing over a land border.
Asked if it was possible she fled via a natural land border, Rangsibhramakul would only say: “That is possible.”
At the hearing on Friday, Yingluck’s lawyer said she was ill, but did not produce a medical certificate. The explanation was rejected and Thailand’s Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant.
Yingluck – ousted by a military coup in 2014 – had been barred from leaving Thailand without court approval since 2015, when her trial started.
Her bail of 30 million baht ($900,000), posted when the trial began more than two years ago, has been confiscated.
Yingluck faced up to 10 years in prison for alleged negligence over the rice-buying scheme, which cost the country billions of dollars. The court has set a new date for the verdict of September 27.
‘Low risk’ of unrest
The rice subsidy program, introduced in 2011, pledged to pay farmers well above the market rate for their crop.
But critics said it wasted large amounts of public funds trying to please rural voters, hurting exports and leaving the government with huge stockpiles of rice it couldn’t sell without losing money.
Yingluck said the rice subsidy scheme was “beneficial for the farmers and the country” and that claims it lost money were wrong and motivated by political bias against her.
In 2016, she pledged to see through her trial, and said that she had not considered leaving the country.
Her no-show Friday was a “big surprise” to most people in Thailand, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, told CNN, and will have “emboldened” the military government.
There was only a “low risk” of unrest following her absence, he added. “The military government have been suppressing dissent and suppressing demonstrations. (Her supporters are) fanned out over the country so it is hard for them to mobilize.”
Hundreds of Yingluck’s supporters who’d been waiting outside the court for the verdict quickly dispersed once word spread that she hadn’t appeared.
Thai police had deployed 3,000 officers to guard against potential protests.
Fall from power
When she was inaugurated in 2011, Yingluck became Thailand’s first female prime minister and its youngest in over 60 years.
After the 2014 coup, she was impeached by Thailand’s military-appointed National Legislative Assembly. The ruling barred her from political office for five years.
At the time, Yingluck said she had behaved with integrity and honesty during her time as prime minister.
CNN’s Euan McKirdy and Elaine Ly contributed to this report.