February 11, 2015 / 6:59 AM / 3 years ago

Critics of former Thai PM try to discredit her with escape rumors: lawyer

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Opponents of former Thai leader Yingluck Shinawatra were trying to discredit her by spreading false rumors that she would flee abroad before she is due to face criminal charges this month, her lawyer said on Wednesday.

Ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra talks to reporters as she arrives at Parliament before the National Legislative Assembly meeting in Bangkok January 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Yingluck became Thailand’s first female prime minister in 2011 but was removed from office days before a May 2014 coup led by then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. That followed months of protests in Bangkok against her government.

Last month, she was banned from politics for five years over her role in a state rice-buying scheme, which had won her many rural votes but which cost billions of dollars in losses.

Yingluck, the sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was also indicted on criminal charges over the scheme, charges her supporters say were aimed at crippling her powerful family’s influence.

The attorney-general will submit a subpoena to the Supreme Court on Feb. 19 and wants Yingluck to be present.

Her lawyer, Norawit Laleng, said Yingluck was planning to fight the charges in person even though the law does not stipulate that she needs to be present for the subpoena.

Rumors that Yingluck would flee were being spread by her critics to jolt the military into action, Norawit told Reuters.

“If she had a plan to flee she would not have publicly asked for permission to go abroad,” he said.

Yingluck had hoped to travel to Hong Kong from Sunday until Feb. 22 but the government denied her request to ensure she is in the country to face the charges.

“The opposition is trying to make out that she wants to flee abroad in order to discredit her,” Norawit said.

“This is simply not true.”

She faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.

The charges are the latest twist in 10 years of turbulent politics that have pitted Yingluck and her brother against the royalist military establishment that sees the Shinawatras as a threat and reviles their populist policies.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday accepted a lawsuit filed against four people, including former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, over their role in a deadly 2008 crackdown on anti-Thaksin protesters.

Murder charges were dropped in August against establishment-backed former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his former deputy over a 2010 crackdown on Thaksin’s supporters that killed more than 90 people.

Supporters of the Shinawatras say the courts and the anti-graft agency are biased.

Thaksin, who remains hugely influential, was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled abroad to avoid jail for a 2008 corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel

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