BANGKOK -- Thailand's anti-corruption commission on Thursday indicted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence in handling a rice subsidy scheme said to have lost the government billions of dollars.
Yingluck, who was ordered Wednesday to step down by the Constitutional Court in relation to a separate scandal, could be banned from politics or face criminal charges.
The controversial policy, introduced just after Yingluck took office in August 2011, bought up rice at 50% over market prices. The aim was to shore up the incomes of rural farmers, a base of support for the political faction aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The government apparently lost some 200 billion baht to 400 billion baht ($6.26 billion to $12.52 billion) on the program. Suspicions have also emerged of corruption among cabinet ministers.
After investigating Yingluck for negligence and abuse of power in the matter, the seven-member National Anti-Corruption Commission decided unanimously to recommend that the Senate impeach her.
The former prime minister has already lost her office, but if three-fifths of the Senate vote to impeach, she would be banned from running again for five years.
The anti-corruption committee will decide by May 15 whether there are grounds to indict her on criminal charges. If then found guilty by the Supreme Court, Yingluck could face prison time.
Emboldened by the moves, opposition groups are stepping up efforts to topple the Thaksin-aligned faction and plan to hold large-scale demonstrations in the streets of central Bangkok on Friday.
The pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, meanwhile, has protested the charges. The group, also known as the Red Shirts, aims to hold large rallies on the outskirts of Bangkok beginning Saturday.
Concern is growing that Thailand is headed toward deeper unrest. An explosive device was thrown at the residence of a Constitutional Court judge before daybreak on Thursday.
Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan will meet with the election commission on May 14 to discuss the general election scheduled for July 20. February's poll was declared void after interference from anti-government groups.