Yingluck fine axed in surprise ruling

Yingluck fine axed in surprise ruling

Court says ministry's penalty illegitimate

Yingluck: Not a party to graft
Yingluck: Not a party to graft

The Finance Ministry is set to appeal against yesterday’s Central Administrative Court ruling that revoked its order requiring former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to pay a hefty fine of 35.7 billion baht for the losses incurred by her government’s rice-pledging scheme.

The Central Administrative Court yesterday issued the surprise ruling which also contradicts the previous ruling of the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions that found her guilty of mishandling the rice subsidy scheme.

In the administrative court’s ruling, the order of financial damage payment was illegitimate because corruption in the rice-pledging scheme was committed at the operating level and involved several parties.

According to the court, corruption in the process included the verification of farmers’ eligibility, illegal use of foreign rice in the scheme, the substandard storage of pledged rice and fake government-to-government rice sales. All this took place at the operational level.

A fact-finding panel in charge of finding who should be held responsible for civil liability, however, failed to determine who was responsible for the damage and how much they would have to pay.

According to the court, Yingluck, in her capacity as the prime minister, was involved only in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signing to initiate government-to-government rice deals, but she had no role in the rice sales themselves.

She had not intentionally given a mandate for corruption to occur, the court said.

The court said the Finance Ministry also admitted it had no clear evidence to prove that Ms Yingluck had been directly responsible for the financial damage and that the probe into civil liability did not properly follow the procedures set by the law.

The ruling was in response to Yingluck’s petition against the compensation order issued in October 2016. The 35.7-billion-baht figure was considered to be 20% of the total damage from the rice-pledging scheme.

For that criminal charge, the Supreme Court in September 2017 sentenced her to five years in jail for failing to stop corruption in the scheme. Yingluck fled before the verdict, reportedly to Dubai.

According to the Supreme Court, Ms Yingluck had been aware of the falsified rice deals but failed to call a halt to the transactions which let the corruption continue. The failure was tantamount to dishonest dereliction of duty.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said yesterday that the Finance Ministry has 30 days to appeal the ruling with the Supreme Administrative Court.

However, he declined to comment on whether the revocation would have implications on the criminal case.

“If you ask if [she is] guilty, my answer is that the Supreme Court’s ruling still stands,” he said.

Mr Wissanu pointed out that the seizure of Yingluck’s assets, which are estimated to be below 100 million baht, would also have to be suspended. He said her house in Nawamin Soi 111 in Bangkok has been confiscated but it is not put up for sale.

Krisada Chinavicharana, permanent secretary for finance, said the ministry will discuss the issue with the Comptroller General’s Department (CGD) and the Council of State, the government’s legal adviser over the issue.

When asked about the court’s remarks that the administrative order is illegitimate, he said the ministry will need to review the full version of the court ruling.

Norawit Lalaeng, Yingluck’s lawyer, said yesterday the defence team is ready to fight if the Finance Ministry appeals the ruling.

He also said that based on the court ruling, Ms Yingluck should be exempted from links to corruption in the rice-pledging scheme.

However, early this week, the court ordered five others involved in the scheme including ex-commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to pay financial damages totalling 14.5 billion baht.

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