Corruption plagued rice scheme, Yingluck trial told

Corruption plagued rice scheme, Yingluck trial told

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra meets supporters at the Supreme Court on Friday as she attends the third day of prosecution witness testimony in her trial for negligence related to her government's rice-pledging programme. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra meets supporters at the Supreme Court on Friday as she attends the third day of prosecution witness testimony in her trial for negligence related to her government's rice-pledging programme. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Farmers and millers inflated their reports of pledged rice to make more money while government officials lied about deals with China, the trial of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was told on Friday.

Rawee Rungruang, the former head of the Thai Farmers' Network, told the Supreme Court that farmers cooked the books alongside rice mill owners to claim the generous subsidies being paid by the Yingluck government in 2012 and 2013.

"They gave higher figures than the amount of rice they had," he testified.

"The extra money was shared between them. The rice mills had a computer program — one kept the real figure, and the other kept the figure they reported to the government. ... Everyone knew it was going on."

Ms Yingluck's defence team said the court should consider the witness unreliable as he was linked with anti-government protesters.

The exchange took place as Ms Yingluck looked on during the third day of witness testimony in her trial in the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions. She is charged with dereliction of duty for failing to properly oversee the rice-pledging scheme, resulting in some 500 billion baht in losses to taxpayers.

Vichai Sriprasert, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, testified that the government-to-government (G2G) sales of pledged rice that the Yingluck administration claimed to have sealed with China were fake.

He said discounted rice meant for G2G sales had been delivered to Thai representatives of the purported buyers at warehouses but that no rice was exported. Instead, he said, the rice was simply resold locally at the much higher pledging prices.

The "G2G export" arrangement claimed by the government was abnormal and had never been carried out in such a way before, he said. In the end it created loopholes for the delivered rice to be resold, Mr Vichai said.

He also said that the claimed G2G deals involved old rice that was not wanted by Chinese buyers. As well, he said, China at the time had a rice import quota of 5.3 million tonnes but the G2G deals were being claimed for 14 million tonnes.

He also said that China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (Cofco) was the sole representative of China in rice purchases, but the Yingluck government claimed it had sealed the G2G rice deals with Hainan Grain and Oil Industrial Trading Co.

The Thai Rice Exporters Association tried repeatedly to warn the government of the consequences of fulfilling its election promise to buy "every single grain of rice" from farmers, said Mr Vichai.

Rice had been pledged at an unreasonably high price and thus would have to be stockpiled and would deteriorate because there would be no buyers for the expensive grain, he added.

The Yingluck government paid 15,000 baht per tonne for pledged rice — 40-50% above prevailing market rates — but could later sell it for just 6,000 baht because the rice had deteriorated, Mr Vichai said.

Ms Yingluck continues to maintain that the case against her is a politically motivated attack on her family. Both she and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have given a series of interviews to foreign media in recent weeks in an attempt to bolster support for their claims.


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