December 9, 2016 / 5:52 AM / 8 months ago

Trial of ousted Thai PM Yingluck to end in July 2017 - lawyer

3 Min Read

Ousted former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gestures as she arrives at the Supreme Court for a trial on criminal negligence looking into her role in a debt-ridden rice subsidy scheme during her administration, in Bangkok, Thailand November 4, 2016.Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A criminal negligence trial against ousted former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's first female premier, will end in July 2017, with a verdict expected soon after, her lawyer said on Friday.

Yingluck is accused of negligence over a rice-buying scheme that helped sweep her to power in a 2011 general election.

The scheme was aimed at boosting rural incomes and was popular with rural voters, but the finance ministry estimated it caused a loss of 536 billion baht ($15 billion).

"We think that the court will hand down a verdict in this rice case next year after cross-examining the last witness in the middle of July," lawyer Sommai Koosap told Reuters.

The trial against Yingluck began in 2015.

She denies any wrongdoing but faces up to 10 years in prison if she is found guilty.

"I will fight this until the end," Yingluck told reporters on Friday.

Opposition to the rice-buying scheme helped embolden Yingluck's opponents among royalist Bangkok elites and others in a movement that ultimately led to her downfall.

Thailand was once the world's top rice exporter but lost its crown to India after the collapse of the scheme, which ensured that farmers were cushioned by subsidies and that the state bought rice from farmers at sometimes double the market rate.

The end of the scheme left Thailand with mountains of rice that the current military government is trying to offload.

Thailand has about 8 million tonnes of rice left over from the scheme that it needs to get rid of, the commerce ministry said this month.

The military has said it would wean farmers off farm subsidies since taking power following a May 2014 coup that toppled Yingluck.

However it has had to contend with disgruntled rice farmers struggling with low prices and has back-pedalled somewhat on that pledge with a series of rescue packages in recent weeks.

Yingluck was retroactively impeached after the 2014 coup by the junta's legislature, which banned her from politics for five years for failing to stop the rice programme.

Her supporters say the move was aimed at curbing her political influence.

Yingluck has toured Thailand this year as part of a series of appearances with her supporters that some analysts see as a bid to ensure the survival of her political legacy.

($1 = 35.6500 baht)

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Paul Tait

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