Former Thai PM says she's innocent, asks for 'kindness'

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BANGKOK (AP) — Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared her innocence and asked for "kindness" from a court Tuesday during her final statement in a criminal negligence trial that could land her in prison for 10 years if she is convicted.

The case centers around a rice subsidy program that Thailand's current military government says she grossly mishandled. Yingluck's bank accounts were frozen after an administrative ruling held her responsible for about $1 billion of the losses from the subsidy.

The case against Yingluck is widely seen as an effort to put another nail in the coffin of the political machine founded and directed by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup for alleged corruption and disrespect for the monarchy. The telecommunications mogul has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape a prison sentence on a conflict of interest conviction. The 2006 coup triggered years of sometimes-violent battles for power in Thailand.

The Shinawatras' critics describe them as corrupt, profit-seeking politicians, but their supporters have repeatedly voted them and their political allies into power. The supporters say the traditional political establishment opposes Thaksin because his electoral popularity threatens their entrenched privileges.

Thailand's judiciary has been the target of widespread criticism that it operates with a political bias against Thaksin and his supporters.

"I beg the court for kindness and (to) please dismiss the charge," Yingluck said in her closing statement to the court, according to prepared remarks. The verdict is to be issued Aug. 25.

Hundreds of Yingluck's supporters outside the packed court Tuesday shouted, "Prime minister, fight, fight!"

Yingluck led the last elected government in Thailand before being ousted as prime minister in 2014 when a court ruled that a personnel transfer involved nepotism. The army initiated a coup soon afterward and a military-led government has remained in power since.

After another court appearance late last month, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, warned her supporters to tread carefully. He said the government would not prevent people from gathering, but that "everyone must show restraint" and let the court decide the matter.

"What is being done to her now is not fair," said Prasong Kaewtongta, 51. "I'm giving her moral support."

Rudeeporn Jantarasena, 46, said she came to support Yingluck "because of the good that the Shinawatra family has done."

"They laid the foundations for the people. Be it issues involving poverty, issues that involve your job, they laid very good foundations for middle-class citizens," she said.

She echoed concern about Yingluck's chances for justice, saying Yingluck's political party seemed targeted for punishment that was infrequently applied to other political parties.

The rice subsidy was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck's party win the 2011 general election. The government paid Thai farmers about 50 percent above what they would have received on the world market, with the intention of driving up prices by warehousing the grain.

Instead of driving up prices, other rice-producing countries captured the market by selling at competitive prices. Vietnam as a result replaced Thailand as the world's leading rice exporter.

The government bought and stored 13.3 million tons of rice, but exported less than 1 million tons, costing the state billions of dollars.

Prosecutors in the negligence trial argued that Yingluck ignored warnings of corruption in the subsidy program.

In her prepared remarks, Yingluck said the rice subsidy program helped farmers escape severe financial hardship. She dismissed accusations of corruption.

"I have acted in good faith and never consented to any corruption by others," she said, adding that "it is the pride of my life that once I had a chance to implement this policy for rice farmers."

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