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Thai Ex-PM Indicted Over Failed Rice Subsidy Program

Thailand's Attorney Director General, Department of Special Litigation Chutichai Sakhakorn (R) holds filed charge papers as Director General, Department of Investigation, Surasak Threerattrakul looks on at the Supreme Court in Bangkok, February 19, 2015.

Thai authorities Thursday indicted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra over a bungled rice buying scheme during her time in office. Yingluck failed to appear at the indictment hearing in Bangkok, but her lawyer says she was not obliged to appear and has no intention to flee the kingdom. Her supporters say the charges against her are politically motivated.

The indictment of the last elected prime minister of Thailand had been widely expected.

After delivering boxes of documents to the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office announced that Yingluck Shinawatra had been indicted for "dereliction of duty."

If convicted of criminal negligence and failure to prevent corruption, she could be sent to prison for a decade. The government, now under military control, is also considering a civil suit against the ex-prime minister to seek $18 billion in damages.

The charges stem from a bungled government scheme in which rice farmers pledged crops in exchange for being paid above the market rate. The subsidies resulted in massive stockpiles of rice, some of it rotting in warehouses and accusations that billions of dollars had been wasted. But the former prime minister has repeatedly emphasized that she did nothing wrong.

The director general of the investigation department of the attorney general's office, Surasak Threerattrakul, said the Supreme Court will decide March 19 whether to pursue the case.

Surasak said Yingluck would be required to appear at an initial court hearing. The judges at that time would decide whether to grant bail or detain the defendant.

Yingluck's attorney, Pichit Chuenban, said his client will fight any criminal charges.

The lawyer said Yingluck has reaffirmed "that when she gets the copy in detail of the indictment and the first hearing is set, she will be present at the court for the process of justice."

The junta last month denied the former prime minister permission to travel to Hong Kong to ensure she was in Thailand to face charges.

Yingluck was forced from office after a court convicted her on abuse of power charges last May, shortly before the army seized control of the government. The military junta's hand-picked legislature last month impeached her, meaning she is barred from politics for five years.

The junta has made no secret of its intention to permanently eradicate the political influence of the Shinawatra clan.

Yingluck's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon with humbler roots as a policeman, was ousted as prime minister in a coup in 2006. He is considered a fugitive in exile after a subsequent corruption conviction.

The supporters of the family, which has backed the winner of every recent national election, contend royalists, the military and the Bangkok elite desire to repress the working class and the poor farmers in the north.

The general who led the coup and is now prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has promised new elections will be held early next year after a period of reform and a new constitution that would limit the power of political parties. But there is skepticism about the timeline.

The backdrop for this political drama, which has played out with some violence in recent years, is anxiety about the royal succession. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest reigning monarch. He is 87 and has been in poor health for a long time. His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has not enjoyed the same level of high esteem as his revered father.