A Thai court has issued an arrest warrant for Thailand's former prime minister after she failed to show up in court, amid fears she might have fled the country.
Yingluck Shinawatra was charged with negligence over a rice subsidy scheme. She failed to appear at the Supreme Court for the verdict on Friday (25 August).
"We have heard from officials that she hasn't showed up," Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters, according to Reuters. "She could be at any hospital ... she could be ill. It's not clear whether she has fled. Yingluck has many homes and many cars. It is difficult to track her."
Shinawatra, who could spend up to 10 years in jail if found guilty, said she was suffering from an ear problem.
However, the court set up a new date for the verdict, 27 September, as it did not believe the reason she gave to justify her absence. It also confiscated her bail of THB30m (£580,000, $900,000).
Shinawatra's lawyer, Norawit Lalaeng, said he did not know where she stayed or was being treated, the Bangkoj Post reported.
The newspaper also quoted Wongsuwan as saying: "It is not certain if she has fled or not. But she is a former prime minister, some officials may have lent her a helping hand. She may be really ill. The court issued the arrest warrant, so we must look for her."
Thousands of Shinawatra's supporters had gathered outside the court in spite of the fact that she urged them, in a Facebook post on Thursday, to stay at home.
Shinawatra became Thailand's first female prime minister in 2011, only to be ousted in a military coup in 2014. One year later, she was impeached by the military-appointed legislature over the controversial rice scheme, which saw the government paying farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crop.
The scheme aimed to boost farmers' incomes and alleviate rural poverty. However, it eventually racked up losses of at least $4.46bn, with Thailand also temporarily losing its leading role as the world's largest rice exporter.
The former PM has always denied the charges against her and claimed the trial is politically motivated.
Shinawatra is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a Thai business tycoon who was prime minister of the country until 2006, when a military coup overthrew the regime. He has been accused of tax evasion, corruption and muzzling of the press.