BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s Supreme Court accepted a criminal case against ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday on a charge of mishandling a multibillion dollar rice subsidy scheme, and she could be jailed for 10 years if found guilty.
“This case is in the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction so we have accepted the case and we have set the first court hearing for May 19,” the court said in a statement.
Yingluck was banned from politics for five years in January after a military-backed legislature found her guilty of corruption related to the rice subsidy.
Yingluck, who did not appear in court on Thursday, has denied the charges.
She has also defended the rice policy which bought rice from farmers at above-market prices, and has said the charges against her are politically motivated.
“Throughout my time as prime minister I worked honestly and I did my duties correctly according to the provisions of the constitution and the law in every respect,” she said in a Facebook post.
“The rice policy was one that the public trusted me to perform.”
Her supporters see the case as the latest step by the royalist, military establishment to eradicate the influence of her powerful political family, in particular that of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, also an ousted former premier.
Antagonism between the Shinawatras and the establishment has divided the country for the past decade.
“The conflict between the elite, or the royalist military establishment, and the Shinawatras is far from over,” said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
He said the military had to “tread carefully” or the case could become a catalyst for protests.
The military ousted Yingluck’s government in May saying it had to step in to end violent protests by establishment supporters bent on ousting what they said was an administration riddled with corruption.
Critics denounced the rice scheme as a populist give-away to the Shinawatras’ rural support base.
The finance minister said on Feb. 24 rice stockpiles stood at 17.5 million tonnes and the estimated loss incurred by the scheme totaled $16.46 billion.
The military government is still struggling to offload rice stockpiled under the scheme.
Authorities have held five rice tenders since the military took power and have sold 1,177,983 tonnes for about 17 billion baht ($526 million).
Exporters criticized the subsidy for distorting the market and dethroning Thailand as the world’s biggest rice exporter.
The junta has said it has no plan to revive rice subsidies.
Additional reporting by Kaweewit Kaewjinda; Editing by Robert Birsel