A convoy believed to be carrying Thailand’s former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was last spotted in August at a military checkpoint near the border with Cambodia, the junta’s deputy leader said on Friday, though Cambodian officials yesterday maintained they had no information regarding the case.
Thailand’s first female prime minister, whose government was toppled by the military in 2014, pulled a dramatic disappearing act on August 25, the day a court was due to deliver a verdict in her trial for criminal negligence over a controversial rice-pledging scheme which cost the country billions of dollars.
She has not made any public appearance since her flight but there are widespread reports she has joined her brother Thaksin, who was also toppled in a coup in 2006, in Dubai.
Thailand’s ruling junta has said it was unaware she was planning to flee – something analysts and many Thais have found hard to believe given the round-the-clock surveillance Yingluck frequently complained of.
On Friday, deputy junta leader General Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters Yingluck’s convoy was last seen on CCTV at a military checkpoint in Sa Kaeo province, which borders Cambodia.
“The CCTV footage does not show them at the border checkpoint, it finishes at a military checkpoint at Sa Kaeo province,” he said, without elaborating on whether soldiers had searched the cars.
It is the first confirmation from Thai authorities that Yingluck was seen heading towards Cambodia.
However, Cambodian authorities yesterday insisted they had no information on Yingluck’s whereabouts.
Lim Tech, acting commander in chief of the border communication police at Poipet International Checkpoint, said he did not know about Yingluck’s exit route. “I did not get any information about this case from Thai police and military at the border, and they did not ask us about the issue either,” he said.
Head of the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration, Sok Phal, also said he had not heard of the case. “I don’t know about this information,” he said. “Ask the Thai authorities.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached.
On August 27, Chhay Buna, head of border checkpoints, maintained Yingluck’s crossing into Cambodia was merely a “rumour”, and added that “If Yingluck crossed the border, [she] may have been seen by other people around, but no one [saw her].”
Other Interior Ministry officials said at the time that they had no information of her entering the country, or attempting to fly to Dubai via Singapore.
The Thai junta and officials from Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party have given conflicting accounts of the escape route. One senior military official said they believed Yingluck flew straight to Singapore in a private jet and then on to Dubai. Party insiders have said she either drove or took a boat to Cambodia, then flew in a private plane to Singapore and on to Dubai.
Analysts say the military leadership were concerned that jailing Yingluck would afford her martyr status and might reinvigorate her supporters.
AFP/Additional reporting by Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Mech Dara