BANGKOK — Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appears to be staying in the Mideast commercial hub of Dubai after fleeing a criminal conviction, Thailand’s prime minister said Thursday, in the first official word on her whereabouts since she missed a court date last month.
“We have received preliminary unofficial reports from the Foreign Ministry indicating that she is in Dubai,” said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who expressed annoyance over being asked about it by reporters. It had been generally assumed that Yingluck was in Dubai or London, since her brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, maintains residences in both locations.
Yingluck was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison on Wednesday after being convicted of negligence in overseeing a money-losing rice subsidy program.
Her government was ousted in a 2014 coup and the military government that remains in control of the country has pursued Yingluck through the courts. She fled Thailand shortly before the court had initially been scheduled to rule last month.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said Thursday that the Foreign Ministry received assurances from the United Arab Emirates that Yingluck would not interfere with Thai politics from abroad.
Officials in Dubai did not respond to questions Thursday about Yingluck’s whereabouts.
Yingluck and her supporters have said she is innocent, and she has called the charges against her politically motivated. Her lawyers said Wednesday they do not know where she is.
Police searched Yingluck’s Bangkok home on Thursday to collect evidence against a deputy police commander who is accused of aiding her escape by using false documents. Police Gen. Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said the police search was not an attack on Yingluck but that police were “investigating a criminal case against a deputy commander who has been formally charged.”
Yingluck’s prospects of returning without facing arrest seemed to dim Thursday as a new law was published applying to political office-holders who have been convicted of a crime. The law stipulates that the statute of limitations does not expire in cases where the defendant flees. Appeals are allowed within 30 days, but the defendant must provide new evidence and submit the appeal in person. The law as written appears to apply to Yingluck’s case.
Yingluck ‘s brother Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, was prime minister in 2001-2006. He was ousted in a military coup amid charges of corruption and alleged disrespect for the monarchy, which he long has denied. He fled to Dubai and has since maintained a home there while also regularly traveling to London, even though his Thai passports were revoked by authorities in 2015.
Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it would also revoke Yingluck’s passport once it is told to do so by the courts, police or involved security officials.
Dubai, home to the world’s tallest building and a luxury nightlife scene, has attracted other leaders facing political or legal challenges back home. Pakistani Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized control of his country in a 1999 coup and later sided with the U.S. in its war in Afghanistan, fled to Dubai in 2016 while facing treason and murder charges. It was his second time in Dubai exile, having earlier lived there and London for 4 ½ years after stepping down as president in 2008.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.