BANGKOK: Thailand’s junta chief said Tuesday he knows where fugitive ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra has fled to, but will not reveal her location until after a court delivers its verdict in her negligence trial this week.
The comments were the first admission from the military regime that it had located the runaway premier, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since she slipped out of the kingdom one month ago.
Yingluck, whose government was toppled in a 2014 coup, pulled her vanishing act shortly before a Supreme Court verdict scheduled for August 25.
She faces up to a decade in jail and a lifetime ban from office for allegedly failing to stop graft in a rice policy — a case her supporters say is a junta-driven effort to push her out of politics.
After she failed to show up in court, stunning the huge crowds of supporters who had gathered outside, judges decided to delay the ruling until September 27.
“Now I know of her whereabouts but I will not disclose it until after September 27,” junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters.
“She has not yet applied for political asylum, and I don’t know whether she will be able to get it,” he added.
Junta and party sources have previously told AFP that Yingluck is believed to have joined her brother Thaksin — another former premier ousted in a coup — in Dubai.
Thaksin has kept a home in the city since he fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.
The junta has denied any prior knowledge of Yingluck’s plan to escape. But many in the kingdom find that difficult to believe given the regime’s tight security net and constant surveillance of the former premier.
Analysts say Yingluck most likely brokered a deal with the military leaders, who would have been eager to see off a popular politician poised to become a martyr for the kingdom’s withering democracy.
The junta is desperate to avoid unrest and may also have feared that a harsh jail sentence would have unleashed protests from Yingluck’s fervent supporters.
Authorities are now investigating three police officers who allegedly assisted the former premier with her getaway.
Thailand’s deputy junta leader, Pravit Wongsuan, says the officers drove Yingluck to the border of Cambodia, which she entered through an informal crossing before likely flying on to a third country.
But the policemen will not be prosecuted as there was no arrest warrant out for Yingluck at the time, said the junta leader.