Cops close in on Yingluck ‘getaway car’

Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is accused of negligence over a rice subsidy policy that funneled cash to her poor, rural farming base but cost the Thai exchequer billions of dollars

Police have found a vehicle suspected of being used to help former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra flee before the Aug 25 ruling in her case by the Supreme Court, national deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul says.

Pol Gen Srivara gave assurances that a police pickup truck seen in front of her house on Aug 23 was not involved in her escape.

The police vehicle, dispatched from Lat Phrao police station, was on patrol and it was driven by Pol Capt Wirat Nuakaew, a deputy inspector.

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The lead comes a week after Ms Yingluck’s no-show at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions. She is presumed to have fled the country.

The regime and security authorities have come under fire over her disappearance, with many questioning how she could have slipped away when she was heavily monitored.

A search team has been set up to locate her and bring her before the Supreme Court, which issued a warrant for her arrest, to hear its ruling on Sept 27. The ex-premier faces a possible 10-year jail term if convicted of criminal negligence related to her government’s rice-pledging scheme.

Pol Gen Srivara, who leads the search team, said police have reviewed security camera footage in Soi Yothinpattana 3 in Bung Kum district during Aug 23-24 and found about 10 vehicles passing or entering and leaving Ms Yingluck’s house.

He said one of the vehicles is believed to be have been used in her escape but declined to give more details about the vehicle on the grounds that the information “could be sensitive to security and international relations”.

“We have made progress and we are tracking down the car. It’s not the one that turned up in a viral video clip. We can’t discuss the brand, the colour, the owner or say who might be involved,” he said.

“What can be said is that it is a suspect vehicle. It appeared on Aug 23. We couldn’t specify the time.”

The police pickup truck seen outside her house was also shown to the media, he said, while forensic officials had collected DNA evidence and fingerprints from the suspect vehicle.

He said if the results show DNA from “a third party” more tests would be conducted to determine who else was in the vehicle.

The deputy police chief said there is insufficient information to determine if Ms Yingluck is still in the country or has fled overseas.

He was referring to Ms Yingluck’s message posted on Aug 24 urging her supporters not to visit the Supreme Court the following day out of concern for their safety after thousands of security officials were mobilised at the compound.

Pol Gen Srivara said authorities in Cambodia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates have informed Thai police they have no record of Ms Yingluck entering their countries.

Citing information from her close aides, Ms Yingluck left the house on Aug 23 at 2pm and no one has heard from her since, he said.

He said the people who helped her flee overseas will face legal action.

Pol Lt Gen Thitiraj Nhongharnpitak, chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, said police are unable to verify Ms Yingluck’s whereabouts but they are working on the matter.

Army commander Chalermchai Sitthisad also said security authorities have no further information about the ex-premier’s location.

“On my part there is no information but we’re keeping an eye out,” he said.

Following her escape, the army commander, who is also secretary-general of the National Council for Peace and Order, admitted lax security was to blame.

Meanwhile, Democrat heavyweights yesterday continued to pressure the regime to trace Ms Yingluck and determine how she had escaped. Deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said authorities were slow to take action and a week had passed without fresh information about her whereabouts.

Mr Nipit said he believed the former premier was seeking political asylum and expected her to keep a low profile until the process was completed.

According to the Democrat politician, Ms Yingluck “has the upper hand”.

While the Supreme Court has yet to rule on her case, Thai police cannot ask Interpol to issue an arrest warrant, he said. By the time the ruling is announced, it is possible the asylum-seeking process could be completed.

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