Rice scheme charges delayed on deposed Thai PM Yingluck

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BANGKOK (Sept 4): Thai authorities Thursday delayed a ruling on whether deposed former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will face criminal charges -- carrying up to 10 years in jail -- over a loss-making rice subsidy scheme.

The attorney general's office said it needed more time to investigate Yingluck's involvement in the controversial scheme, which became a clarion call for protests against her now toppled government.

"There is not enough evidence to take legal action against former Prime Minister Yingluck as accused by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)," Wanchai Rojanawong, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said at a press conference in Bangkok.

The attorney general will form a joint committee with the NACC to gather more evidence before deciding whether to charge her, he said, without specifying when it would make a decision on an indictment.

Yingluck, Thailand's first female premier, was removed from office in a controversial court ruling shortly before the army toppled the remnants of her elected government on May 22.

Just a day after she was removed from office, the NACC indicted the former leader for dereliction of duty in relation to the rice policy, later forwarding the case to the attorney general's office to consider criminal charges.

Yingluck's deeply divisive elder brother Thaksin -- a billionaire former premier -- lives in self-exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

- Rice controversy -

The rice subsidy -- which paid farmers up to 50 percent above market rates for the grain -- was criticised for punching a hole in Thai finances, battering the rice industry and fostering massive corruption, with opponents accusing Yingluck of using it to shore up her rural electoral base.

Yingluck has always maintained her innocence and questioned whether the NACC investigation has met international standards.

A member of her Puea Thai party legal team said they had asked for more witnesses to be questioned.

"We are ready to fight the case," Singtong Buachoom told AFP.

Thaksin, a policeman turned telecoms mogul, sits at the epicentre of Thailand's long-running political divide.

He was toppled in a previous coup in 2006 and now lives in self-exile to avoid jail for a graft charge he contends was driven by politics.

The Shinawatras and their affiliates have won every Thai election since 2001, carried to power by the northern rural poor and urban middle and working classes.

But they are hated by royalist southerners and the Bangkok-based establishment -- and its allies in the military and judiciary -- who accuse Thaksin of infecting Thai politics with cronyism and corruption.

The family's political power has been targeted by two coups in a turbulent decade, while the Thai courts have also deposed three Thaksin-allied premiers -- including Yingluck.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who was endorsed as Prime Minister two weeks ago, has said the coup was necessary to end months of political unrest that left 28 people dead.

But critics accuse the military of using the protests as an excuse for a power grab.

Prayut has ruled out holding new elections before October 2015 despite international appeals for a return to democracy.