Cambodia has denied allowing former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to transit through the country en route to Dubai after she fled judgement in a court case against her last week.
Prime Minister Hun Sen told a meeting of 5,000 factory workers in Phnom Penh there was no record of Ms Yingluck coming through the country.
His comments on the issue were yesterday published to Facebook by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who attended the meeting at Koh Pich.
“All airlines checked on Ms Yingluck’s disappearance and alleged travel through Cambodia,” Mr Hun Sen said.
Rumours relating to Ms Yingluck’s escape have been running wild since she failed to show up on Friday morning for the Supreme Court ruling in her trial for dereliction of duty in managing her government’s loss-ridden rice-pledging scheme.
She faces up to ten years in prison and a lifetime ban from politics if convicted.
According to the Bangkok Post, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Friday afternoon ordered security authorities to check border crossings for Ms Yingluck.
“I told them to look at legal and illegal border passes,” Gen Prayut said.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan later claimed officials may have helped Ms Yingluck flee.
She was under close supervision and had even complained of her privacy being breached.
Thai media have suggested several theories on Ms Yingluck’s escape route via Cambodia.
Some say she entered the country by boat via Koh Kong province. Others said she may have come by helicopter from Thailand’s Trat or Chachoengsao provinces, while another theory is that she drove over the border to Phnom Penh, where she caught a flight out of the country.
There was also the suggestion that she may have obtained a Cambodian passport to help her flee.
Ms Yingluck is said to have left home in Thailand as early as Wednesday night.
A warrant for her arrest was not issued until Friday afternoon, which means border and airport officials would have had no reason to alert authorities to her presence.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Ms Yingluck would immediately be sent back to Thailand if she was found hiding in Cambodia.
“Cambodian authorities were not informed that Ms Yingluck crossed into the country,” he said.
He added that Cambodia is happy to cooperate with the Thai courts, despite there being no formal agreement to exchange prisoners between the two countries.
“If a Thai court has issued an arrest warrant we are happy to cooperate. Our country is no place for criminals to stay,” he said.
Ms Yingluck’s family is known to have close ties to Cambodia.
Her brother Thaksin, also a former prime minister of Thailand now living in exile in Dubai, fled his homeland to escape court action in 2008.
He was briefly hired by Prime Minister Hun Sen as an economic adviser in 2009, but was dropped from the role after outcry from Thailand.
Mr Thaksin’s niece is married to the son of Mr Hun Sen’s close aide and Siem Reap lawmaker Seang Nam. Chayapa Wongsawat and Lynal Nam, an official attached to the Office of the Cambodian Cabinet, wed in 2013.
Ms Chayapa is the daughter of Ms Yingluck and Mr Thaksin’s sister Yaowapa, who herself is married to former Thai prime minister Somchai Wongsawat.
Ms Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party swept to power in 2011, in part by appealing to rural voters with the rice-pledging scheme, which eventually saw her government buy the grain from farmers at up to 50 percent above market prices.
The military-backed Bangkok establishment, which took part in protests in 2013 and 2014 that helped to overthrow her government, called the subsidies wasteful and corrupt.
However, her supporters say the ruling junta has deliberately targeted Ms Yingluck and wants to silence her family’s political machine.