One down, three to go: Yingluck Shinawatra still faces charges despite NACC ruling

Photo: Moritz Hager/CC BY-SA 2.0

Thailand’s anti-corruption agency cleared former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of one of four outstanding graft charges. What happens next?

By John Pennington

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra remains in exile but continues to exercise administrators back home. Jailed in absentia for five years for criminal negligence in 2017, there are still graft charges outstanding against her from 2012.

The charges stem from her ambitious water management schemes designed to prevent flooding. Her plans required significant investment, much of which came in the form of loans. Her opponents challenged her acquisition of these loans. The National Anti-Corruption Council (NACC) subsequently brought charges against her.

Yingluck stands accused of four charges relating to her water management policies

In 2011, Thailand grappled with the worst flooding in five decades.
Photo Credit: Donavanik/Wikimedia Commons

The NACC indicted her on four charges. The first charge focused on her acquisition of loans worth 350 billion baht (US$11 billion) to finance the water management project. At the time, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the loans were required to maintain economic security and prevent disasters.

NACC members cleared Yingluck of the first charge on April 20 due to a lack of evidence. They voted unanimously, citing inadequate evidence that she had violated Section 169 of the 2007 Constitution. That section states: “The payment of State funds shall be made only when it has been authorised by the law on appropriations, the law on budgetary procedure, the law on transfer of appropriations or the law on treasury balance, except that it may be prepaid in the case of urgent necessity under the rules and procedure provided by law.”

Although this first charge against her has been lifted, NACC is still investigating three further charges. She stands accused of missing the deadline to apply for a loan and then unlawfully applying for loans. There are further allegations that she did not follow the rules when implementing policy and that contractors broke terms of reference.

Korea Water Resources Corps won contracts to carry out some of the work on the projects. It had to defend its suitability and deny that former PM Thaksin Shinawatra – her brother – was involved in securing the deal. This may form part of NACC’s investigation into the other charges against Yingluck.

NACC has taken its time in reaching a decision

These charges relate to activity dating back almost seven years. However, taking this long to reach a decision is not unusual for the NACC. Nor is it a surprise that it failed to bring a conviction against Yingluck.

Between 1999 and 2017, the organisation looked at thousands of cases, making a conviction in just 105 of them. In more than two-thirds of cases, it failed to find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. Its conviction rate was less than 10%.

The overwhelming majority of convictions were against low and middle-level administrators and officials. It rarely brought a successful conviction against a high-profile figure. This has led to concerns over the NACC’s impartiality.

Those calls grew louder as its conviction rates increased after the junta took control in 2014. Critics no longer view NACC as an independent body. Its decision to drop an investigation against current PM Prayut Chan-Ocha’s nephew only fuelled concerns.

Prayut Chan-Ocha, Thailand’s current Prime Minister.
Photo Credit: Kremlin

There is history between NACC and Yingluck

Before this latest ruling, NACC had already cleared Yingluck more than once. In September 2017 she was cleared of a charge of dereliction of duty over how she handled the flooding crisis. NACC also dismissed a 2013 asset declaration case brought against her.

And in January this year, the NACC ruled in her favour, upholding a charge against three politicians that defamed her back in 2012. However, the judgment still reflected poorly on her. NACC members criticised her lack of transparency which gave rise to the comments.

However, in 2014, the NACC agreed to indict her for charges related to her rice-pledge scheme. This set off the chain of events that ended with her exile.

How will the election results impact Yingluck’s cases?

The political landscape in Thailand could change once again with the Pheu Thai (PT) party eager to form a coalition following elections earlier this year. Yingluck once led PT. If NACC is as politically partial as its critics believe, it may succumb to political pressure and clear Yingluck of the remaining charges.

In any case, the NACC’s historical inability to charge high profile individuals increases the probability that Yingluck could see some or all of the remaining charges against her dropped.

While it may be easier to prove, for example, that she missed a loan deadline, than some of the other charges, the NACC may have left it too late to gather sufficient evidence against her. She stands a good chance of avoiding any conviction.