BANGKOK (Reuters) - The leader of Thailand's military junta said on Thursday that Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister he ousted three years ago, was in Dubai, having fled there last month to avoid being jailed over a rice subsidy scheme that lost billions of dollars.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led the coup, said Thailand would pursue Yingluck through diplomatic channels and police cooperation using Interpol.
His remarks came a day after a court found Yingluck guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced her in absentia to five years in prison.
"She is in Dubai," Prayuth told reporters, adding that the foreign ministry has been tracking Yingluck's movements.
"The police will now have to proceed and coordinate with the Foreign Ministry and Interpol," he added.
The Supreme Court delayed giving its judgment last month after Yingluck failed to show in court and police discovered she had slipped out of the country.
The Thai authorities had not disclosed Yingluck's whereabouts before, though senior members of her party had told Reuters that she had gone to Dubai where her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for graft, has a home.
The power struggle between Thailand's establishment - which includes the armed forces and urban middle class - and the Shinawatras has dominated Thai politics for over a decade.
The Shinawatras remain popular with rural and poor voters, and the rice subsidy scheme had helped Yingluck shore up her support base to get elected in 2011.
Throughout her trial, Yingluck said she was innocent and she was not responsible for the day-to-day running of the scheme, arguing that she was a victim of political persecution.
Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters that the government has been in contact with the United Arab Emirates about Yingluck.
"Their government will take care that she won't engage in politics," Prawit said.
The ruling junta has promised to hold an election in 2018, though changes to the constitution has ensured the military holds onto some role governing the country.
Thaksin's Puea Thai Party did not comment to Reuters on Prayuth's disclosure that Yingluck was in Dubai.
(Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Panu Wongcha-um and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)