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A Thai Supreme Court judge said he suspected Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted by a coup in 2014, had fled or gone into hiding after she failed to attend court on Friday for the verdict in a negligence case brought by the ruling junta.
Yingluck, whose family has dominated Thai politics for more than 15 years, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty in a case centered on the multi-billion dollar losses incurred by a
rice subsidy scheme for farmers.
The court set a new date of Sept. 27 for the verdict, and said it would seek an arrest warrant for Yingluck as it did not believe her excuse that she could not attend the court hearing because of an ear problem.
"We don't think that the defendant is ill. We think that the defendant is hiding or has fled ... We have pushed back the verdict date to September 27," a statement from a Supreme Court judge said. "She asked for sick leave not to show up today."
Yingluck's lawyer, Norwait Lalaeng, said he was unaware whether she was still in Thailand.
A spokeswoman for Yingluck declined to comment. The long-awaited verdict could inflame tension in the Southeast Asian country and have far-reaching implications in the politically divided kingdom.
Hundreds had gathered outside the court on Friday where Bangkok's metropolitan police said around 4,000 police had been deployed and checkpoints had been set up.
The rice subsidy program — a flagship policy of Yingluck's administration - saw her government buy farmers' crops at prices up to 50 percent higher than market prices. The policy was
popular with farmers but left Thailand with huge rice stockpiles and caused $8 billion in losses.
Yingluck has said she was only in charge of coming up with the policy but not the day-to-day management of the scheme. Her administration was removed in a 2014 military coup.
In the northeastern province Khon Kaen, a Shinawatra stronghold, a leader of the red shirt political movement that supports Yingluck said her supporters felt frustrated.
"Some people may want to demonstrate publicly to show their unhappiness about how Yingluck is being treated," he said.
Shinawatra's Puea Thai Party has said it does not support acts of violence and urged supporters to gather peacefully. Some supporters outside the court in Bangkok held roses while others wore white gloves with the word "love" on them.
The court is due to rule in the separate case on Friday of Yingluck's former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom who is accused of falsifying government-to-government rice deals
between Thailand and China in 2013.
The Shinawatra family's parties have won every general election since 2001, but it is at the heart of a bitter and bloody power struggle in Thailand.
Yingluck's brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a 2006 coup.
Supporters of the Shinawatras accuse the ruling generals of political persecution.
The military government has acknowledged it wants to maintain permanent influence over future elected governments, partly through a new constitution that took effect earlier this
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup against Yingluck's government, has said the coup was to end political turmoil in the country. He has promised that an election will be held next year.
Regardless of whether she is found guilty or innocent, Yingluck will not be able to run in that election because she was banned from politics for five years in 2015 by the junta's legislature for alleged graft in the rice-purchasing program.
If Yingluck is found guilty she has 30 days to appeal and is expected to post bail, avoiding any immediate prison time.