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Thailand’s ousted prime minister says she won’t flee charges

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra smiles as she arrives at the Constitutional Court in Bangkok May 6, 2014.

CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM/REUTERS

Thailand's former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Friday she will fight charges related to her ousted government's rice subsidy program, vowing to return home after a planned trip overseas.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission on Thursday recommended criminal charges against Yingluck for dereliction of duty for failing to halt the program, which accumulated losses of at least $4.4-billion and also temporarily cost Thailand its position as the world's leading rice exporter.

At her first news conference since losing her job in May, Yingluck charged that the case against her was unfairly rushed.

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"In my view, the first issue is whether the judicial system follows the universal standards of the rule of law, because I think the examination was hasty and rushed," Yingluck told reporters. "The NACC never treated other cases involving politicians the same way they did with me."

"Today, I am fully a citizen and deserve the rights and freedoms of other Thais. I insist I will not abandon the Thai people and I am ready to return to Thailand," she added.

She also criticized the anti-graft agency for repeatedly rejecting her requests to allow more witnesses and evidence in her defence.

The rice subsidy program, which paid the farmers double the market price, was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck's government win votes in the 2011 general election. Yingluck's administration claimed the scheme would directly benefit Thai farmers and reduce the income equality gap in the country.

The commission had already ruled in May that Yingluck was liable for impeachment because the rice policy was prone to corruption and massive losses. That decision came one day after she was force from office by a court ruling over alleged abuse of power in a different matter. The military seized power in a coup later that month.

The anti-graft body will hand the case to prosecutors to file the charges in court. If found guilty, she could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to 20,000 baht ($600), or both.

Yingluck, the country's first female prime minister, said her overseas trip was planned, with fixed departure and return dates, before the NACC's ruling. It is widely believed she will travel to France to celebrate the birthday of her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled a corruption conviction in 2008.

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The anti-graft commission, one of several independent state agencies with powers similar to those of a court, is seen as part of the country's conservative establishment, which has removed several governments allied with Thaksin.

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