BANGKOK, Aug 26 – Fugitive former Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra is in Dubai and may try to seek asylum in the UK, a junta source told AFP Saturday, after fleeing the country to avoid a court ruling in a vanishing act that stunned many Thais. Yingluck, 50, was due on Friday morning to arrive at the Supreme Court for the ruling in her trial for criminal negligence that could have seen her jailed for 10 years.
But she did not show up, wrong-footing the court and her supporters alike as she wrote a dramatic closing chapter to the 16-year political saga of her mega-rich Shinawatra family. Speculation swirled on Saturday on the whereabouts of Thailand’s first female prime minister – and her possible escape route.
The junta source, who is well-placed in the security hierarchy, gave a detailed description of her escape, saying she took a private jet from Thailand to Singapore and onto Dubai, the base of Shinawatra family patriarch Thaksin, who is Yingluck’s older brother.
“Thaksin has long prepared escape plan for his sister … he would not allow his sister to spend even a single day in prison. But Dubai is not Yingluck’s final destination,” the source said, requesting anonymity, adding she may be aiming “to claim asylum in Britain”.
Thaksin, who once owned Manchester City football club, owns property in London and spends significant amounts of time in the city. The Shinawatra’s political network remained tight-lipped on Saturday in a media blackout that only served to heighten speculation over her dash from Thailand and the likelihood of a possible deal with the junta to allow her to leave.
A senior source inside the family’s Pheu Thai party, also requesting anonymity, on Saturday told AFP Yingluck had fled the country for Dubai a few days before the ruling. The Shinawatra political dynasty emerged in 2001 with a series of groundbreaking pro-poor welfare schemes that won them elections but rattled Thailand’s royalist, army-aligned elite, who battered successive governments linked to the clan with coups, court cases and protests.
Yingluck’s government was toppled by a coup in 2014 and she was put on trial over negligence linked to a costly rice subsidy that propped up her rural political base. Thaksin, Yingluck’s elder brother, has been based partly in Dubai since he fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction. He was toppled from power by a 2006 coup.
Thai newspapers reported that Yingluck fled through a land border to Cambodia, flew to Singapore and on to Dubai, perhaps two days before her court date. It was a disappearing act that appeared to surprise even her family – an elder brother and sister waited at the court for her arrival alongside thousands of supporters.
Shinawatra loyalists expressed sympathy with her shock move, saying the ruling would have been predetermined as her case was politically motivated. “If she has fled abroad it is because this set of judges are appointed by the military and do not come from a democratic system,” Surachet Chaikosol, 59, a “Red Shirt” activist told AFP.
“I am glad she will not suffer in jail.” Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Friday denied knowledge of Yingluck’s whereabouts and expressed surprise at her no-show “as she always insisted that she would fight the case”. Analysts say Yingluck, who was closely monitored by Thai security services, most likely cut a deal to exit the country.
The decision to flee helps her avoid being jailed under a Thai junta that pressed for her trial and diminishes the possibility of pro-Shinawatra protests. The military is desperate to avoid instability as it digs in for a long stay in Thai politics. The Supreme Court will deliver its ruling in absentia on September 27. — AFP