By Aukkarapon Niyomyat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's Supreme Court has set Aug. 25 as the date for a verdict in the trial of the country's former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is accused of wasting billions of dollars on a rice subsidy scheme.
Yingluck, overthrown in a 2014 military coup, faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty in the trial which has been going on for 18 months. Friday was the last day for witness hearings. Yingluck can make a closing statement on Aug. 1, the court said.
Yingluck and her Puea Thai Party say the trial is politically motivated, aimed at discrediting a populist movement that has helped the Shinawatra clan win every election since 2001. Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra first introduced the rice program before he himself was ousted in a 2006 coup.
But Yingluck took it a step further by offering to buy rice from farmers at up to 50 percent above market prices. The measure helped her sweep to power in 2011, but government losses from the scheme - which also distorted global rice prices - fuelled protests that led to her removal.
Yingluck, however, remains popular among her supporters, particularly in the northeast, Thailand's poorest region.
Hundreds of supporters at the court cheered Yingluck at the court on Friday - defying junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha's request for her followers to stay away.
"I hope Yingluck will not be found guilty so she can become prime minister again and bring back the rice scheme," said Napa, a 56-year-old rice farmer from Ratchaburi province, west of Bangkok. She declined to give her full name.
Yingluck thanked her supporters, but gave no other comment.
The judges have dismissed a petition by Yingluck's legal team to have the case scrutinized by the Constitutional Court.
The trial started in January 2016 after Yingluck's impeachment by the military-appointed Legislative Assembly in 2015. It effectively banned her from politics for five years for the alleged mismanagement of the rice scheme.
If found guilty, Yingluck like her brother Thaksin, would be disqualified from becoming premier again. Thaksin has been living in self-imposed exile for 11 years to avoid serving a two-year sentence over a corrupt land deal.
(Writing by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Himani Sarkar)