Pheu Thai raps govt for trial claims

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra reacts to her supporters waiting for her outside the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on Aug 1, 2017. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Inflamed by claims that local administrative organisations (LAOs) are using state funds to cover the transport costs of supporters of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra at her rice scheme trial on Aug 25, Pheu Thai members on Monday denounced these as groundless.

They called on the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) and the Interior Ministry to name the “guilty” LAOs after reports emerged claiming the OAG has detected some local bodies that are misappropriating state funds to ferry Ms Yingluck’s supporters to the Supreme Court.

The embattled former prime minister is due to hear the final ruling in the rice-pledging case, which the government claims has cost the state over 500 billion baht in losses, at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on Friday next week.

The OAG is believed to have written to the Interior Ministry asking it to look into the LOA’s financial matters.

Yuthapong Jarassathien, a former deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister who also once served as the Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham, said on Monday he did not believe any LAOs would violate the law in this manner.

Their budget spending has been scrutinised for the last two or three years, leaving no leeway for abuse, said Surasan Phasuk, the party’s former MP for Sing Buri.

Authorities need to clarify the matter so the public is not misled and LAOs are not unfairly tarred, he said.

“As Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said he has ordered officials to check if any LAOs [misappropriated] their budgets, I also want Gen Anupong to reveal the results of the investigation,” Mr Surasan said.

Gen Anupong said on Sunday he requested provincial governors and district chiefs to inform LAOs nationwide to keep their books in order. His ministry has found no evidence of wrongdoing so far, he added.

Critics say the government is using various channels to squash support for Ms Yingluck. It previously warned her backers not to gather in large numbers outside the court or risk facing punishment for breaking its ban on political gatherings.

Tida Tawornseth, a chief advisor to the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), claimed that local party leaders are being blocked from travelling to the court to hear the ruling.

She urged Ms Yingluck’s supporters to buy their own transport tickets and travel to the court independently.

Ms Tida said the public has a right to lend moral support to any politician they favour, and that questions must be raised about whether attempts to stop them are within the law.

She said the military regime is heaping more pressure on the public now than was the case over half a century ago when Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat staged a coup in 1957.

Meanwhile, acting Pheu Thai Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai insisted Ms Yingluck has done nothing wrong in relation to the rice-pledging case.

He said the scheme was carried out for the benefit of farmers and the public.

“The party dares to say, and is very confident, that Ms Yingluck has done nothing wrong,” he said. “We believe in her innocence.”

If the Pheu Thai is made to suffer for rolling out a policy that has improved the lives of thousands of farmers, “most of the people would sympathise with us and protect us,” Mr Phumtham said.

“So our party would be able to stay alongside them forever,” he added.

Responding to Ms Tida’s comments that Ms Yingluck’s supporters are being blocked by authorities from visiting the court next week, National Council for Peace and Order spokesman Winthai Suvaree said officials are merely asking for the public’s cooperation.

To ensure conflict does not flare up again to threaten the fragile peace that has settled on the capital, any political activities should be handled cautiously so that certain parties cannot exploit them for their own ends, Mr Winthai said.

Meanwhile, three van operators whose vehicles were used to transport Ms Yingluck’s supporters to the same court two weeks ago for her closing statement were handed fines of 5,000 baht to 15,000 baht last week for operating illegal services.

Police suggested the fines were a slap on the wrist given the heavier punishments at the authorities’ disposal.

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