By Aukkarapon Niyomyat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's Supreme Court is expected to deliver a verdict on Wednesday in a negligence trial involving former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who fled abroad last month fearing that the military government would seek a harsh sentence.
Yingluck, whose government was ousted by the military in 2014, could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison if found guilty of negligence over a costly rice subsidy scheme that helped to bring her to power in an election in 2011.
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Yingluck had pleaded innocent and had accused the military government of political persecution.
The clash between Thailand's traditional elite, including the army and affluent Bangkok-based upper classes, and the Shinawatra family, which includes Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, have dominated Thai politics for more than a decade.
The Shinawatras commanded huge support by courting rural voters, helping them to win every general election since 2001, but their foes accused them of corruption and nepotism.
Under the rice scheme, Yingluck's government bought rice from farmers at above-market prices, leading to stockpiles of the grain and distorted global prices of the commodity. Losses amounted to $8 billion, the military government has said.
Although police said they expected no security issues, some 300 officers were deployed at the court, while a Reuters reporter saw just 50 supporters of Yingluck there.
That was far fewer than on Aug. 25, when the court was originally scheduled to deliver its verdict, only to find out that Yingluck had fled the country.
"It doesn't matter if Yingluck doesn't show up today. I'll always come to support her because I love her," said Thuanphit Srichan, 60, a retiree from Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok.
Though her whereabouts has not been disclosed by either her aides or the junta, Reuters reported last month that she had fled to Dubai where Thaksin has a home and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for corruption.
The leader of the military junta, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, said on Tuesday he knows where Yingluck is but would reveal it until after the verdict is read.
Yingluck's lawyer, Sommai Koosap, told Reuters outside the court on Wednesday that he has not heard from Yingluck since her departure from Thailand.
"We've done our best. We have fought according to the law ... the result now is up to the court," Sommai told Reuters.
Yingluck, who was previously active on social media, has not commented publicly since disappearing from public view.
Her Puea Thai Party has said that the party does not know where she is.
Thai authorities investigating how Yingluck escaped said last week they have questioned three police officers who admitted to helping her.
A former commerce minister in her government was jailed for 42 years last month for falsifying government-to-government rice deals in connection with the subsidy scheme.
(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Suphanida Thakral; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Simon Cameron-Moore)