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Rice pledging scheme verdict draws near

July 21, 2017 marks an important point of a long-running rice pledging scheme case in which former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is a defendant.

The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions set July 21 as the date for the final hearing of the defendant witnesses' testimonies. Seven witnesses who will defend Ms Yingluck on this final hearing are former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, Amphon Kitti-amphon, Benja Louichareon, Atchaporn Charuchinda, Chanutpakorn Wongsrinil, Phuris Sornsarut, and assistant professor Kitti Limsakul.

On the final hearing, the court may or may not summon more witnesses to give testimonies. So far the court has summoned 14 state witnesses to testify against Ms Yingluck, and 42 defendant witness to defend her. If no more witnesses are summoned, the hearing session for witness will then be final.

Regarding Ms Yingluck's verbal closing statement, Ms Yingluck's lawyer told Thai PBS that she had formally notified the court that she would like to give verbal statement in closing the case.

It is expected that the court would inform the defendant tomorrow (July 21) on whether she would be allowed to give verbal statement or not, and when.

Under the justice procedure of the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, both the plaintiff and the defendant have the right to deliver closing statement within the time and date to be fixed by the court.

And after the closing statement, the court will pronounce the judgement within seven days. But this may be adjourned by the court for no more than 14 days.

In case of the absence of the defendant on the judgement date, the court shall adjourn the judgement and issue an arrest warrant for the defendant to hear the judgement.

If the defendant fails to show up at the court within 30 days after the arrest warrant has been issued, the court may read out the verdict in his or her absence.

According to this legal timeframe, it is expected that the judgement of the high-profile rice pledging scheme would be handed down in September.

The controversial rice-pledging scheme case had taken the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) almost two years to investigate and forward the case file to the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) for prosecution.

The OAG spent seven months to scrutinize the NACC's case file before deciding to indict the former prime minister for dereliction of duty on February 18, 2015.

The court spent one month to examine the file case before accepted the case for trial.

It took the court almost one year to go through all the evidence and documents given by the OAG, and began to summon witnesses for hearing of testimonies since January 15 last year.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has said that supporters of former prime minister Yingluck can turn up at the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on July 21) but should not be in too large numbers.

The numbers of supporters, who are expected to come from various parts of the country to give Ms Yingluck moral support, should be appropriate, he said, but did not elaborate.

Gen Prawit said the examination of witnesses on that day might not be the last, as the court might asked for more witnesses to testify with more evidence.

On the preparation of the annual military reshuffle lists, Gen Prawit, who is also the defence minister, said he was not heavy-hearted. �Reporting by Saowaluck Wattanasin

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)