Yingluck Shinawatra has maintained her innocence after being accused of negligence in a costly subsidy scheme. The program cost the government billions of dollars and sparked the protests that led to last year's coup.
Thailand's first female prime minister arrived in court Tuesday for the start of her trial on negligence charges that could result in her being jailed for ten years.
Yingluck Shinawatra, whose administration was overthrown last year in a military coup, is accused of dereliction of duty for her role in a rice subsidy scheme.
She is the sister of billionaire ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was toppled in a previous coup in 2006 and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid arrest on a corruption charge.
Yingluck stands accused of dereliction of duty and criminal negligence for her role in a rice subsidy scheme that she trumpeted and that her government oversaw.
Under the controversial program, the government paid rice farmers up to twice the market price for grain. Much of this rice, however, was not sold.
In one of the world's top rice-exporting nations, the subsidy scheme not only fueled anti-government protests, but also cost the country some $4 billion (3.5 billion euros), according to Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which led the probe into the scandal.
'Democracy will prevail'
Yingluck, who was forced to step down after the coup, has denied the accusations against her.
Speaking to reporters on the courthouse steps, the former prime minister maintained her innocence and called for a fair trial. She called the trial politically motivated by her opponents.
"I am confident that I am innocent and I hope the court will give me justice and allow everything to proceed in accordance with the law," Yingluck told reporters.
A conviction could damage the Shinawatra family's political dominance but also risks rekindling the powerful "Red Shirt" movement supportive of her family, but largely dormant since the coup.
Thaksin said Tuesday he had no plans to mobilize the "Red Shirt" supporters and called on the Thai people not to resort to violence.
"I think democracy will prevail sooner or later, but we have be patient, and we have to be peaceful," he told news agency Reuters.
Thailand is currently under the rule of a military junta following last year's coup which brought down the Yingluck-led government. The man behind the coup - General Prayuth Chan-ocha, currently prime minister - argued that the military takeover was necessary to avoid further bloodshed following months of political turmoil in a country which has been plagued by political upheaval over the past decade.
bw/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)