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Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra acquitted of mismanagement of public funds

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  • A Thai court acquitted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of mismanaging funds for a government project in 2013.
  • Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was recently released on parole for corruption-related offenses after more than a decade in exile.
  • Thaksin, accused of abuse of power and corruption, has been in legal trouble for nearly two decades and faces 15 years in prison if convicted of royal defamation.

A Thai court on Monday acquitted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, now living in exile, of charges of mismanaging funds intended for a government project in 2013, the latest legal victory for former Prime Minister Thaksin’s powerful family Shinawatra.

The decision came shortly after Yingluck’s brother Thaksin was released on parole for corruption-related offences. Last year, he returned home after more than a decade in self-imposed exile and was held in a hospital for six months before being granted a pardon due to his age and poor health.

Thaksin’s release, after almost two decades of antipathy between his populist political machine and Thailand’s conservative royalist ruling class, has sparked speculation that Yingluck could also return soon.

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It is the latest favorable verdict for Yingluck, who served as prime minister from 2011 until she was forced from office in 2014. In December last year, the same court cleared Yingluck of abuse of power in the context of a transfer of personnel that she had supervised.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives at the Supreme Court to make her final statements during a criminal negligence trial on August 1, 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand. On March 4, 2024, a Thai court dropped charges against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who now lives in exile, for mismanaging government project spending in 2013. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, file)

But to return to Thailand without risking prison, she would also need a pardon from King Maha Vajiralongkorn or some other form of clemency. In 2017, she was convicted in absentia for alleged negligence in implementing a rice subsidy program that caused the government to lose a considerable amount of money, estimated at 500 billion baht ($14 billion) .

Yingluck and her supporters said she was innocent and was being persecuted in a bid to dismantle Thaksin’s political machine. He was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 after being accused of abuse of power, corruption and disrespect for the country’s monarchy.

The Pheu Thai party, backed by Thaksin, came to power last year after general elections in a coalition with military parties linked to coups that twice removed the family from power. Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtran has since become the party’s leader and a potential future prime minister. .

Judges unanimously acquitted Yingluck and five other defendants accused of mismanaging $6.7 million that had been earmarked for a roadshow intended to tout investors on an ambitious infrastructure plan, according to a statement a special body under a division of the Supreme Court that handles criminal cases against political officials.

Yingluck, now 56, was Thailand’s first female prime minister. His acquittal shows that Thaksin’s family’s influence is growing again, said Punchada Sirivunnabood, a political scientist at Mahidol University in Thailand.

Thaksin’s supporters, who gave him unprecedented electoral victories, say his only offense was to challenge the power of the country’s traditional elite, led by monarchists and the military and supported by the urban middle class.

His release appears to reflect a reconciliation with his enemies within Thailand’s conservative elite, who believed his brazen populist policies and electoral popularity posed a threat to them and to the monarchy.

Thaksin-backed parties continued to dominate elections after his ouster. However, last year Pheu Thai only managed to finish second in the elections, behind the more progressive Move Forward party, whose proposals for reforming the military and monarchy more alarmed the conservative royalist establishment than a return of Pheu Thai, who had softened his anti-military line and was eager to return to power.

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Yingluck’s acquittal is another sign that the establishment has reconciled with the Shinawatras in an effort to deal with the growing challenge from the Move Forward party, Punchada said.

“That’s how the conservatives or the established institutions want it to happen because, in the opinion of the conservatives themselves, I don’t think they can dispute the growing popularity of the Move Forward party, it’s why they use Thaksin and Pheu Thai as one party. factors that can balance power with the Move Forward party,” Punchada said.

Thaksin remains in legal danger despite his release. The attorney general’s office says it is still investigating a charge of royal defamation made against Thaksin almost nine years ago. He faces up to 15 years in prison if ever convicted.

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