Border controls have been tightened in Thailand after former PM Yingluck Shinawatra failed to show up for the verdict in her trial over a rice subsidy scheme.
Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan said it was possible the former prime minister had already fled the country.
Lawyers for Yingluck Shinawatra, who is charged with negligence, said she was unable to attend court because she was ill.
However, the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for her, confiscated her bail of $900,000 and delayed the verdict to September 27.
Yingluck Shinawatra has denied any wrongdoing in the scheme which cost Thailand billions of dollars. If found guilty, she could be jailed for up to 10 years and permanently banned from politics.
On August 25, PM Prayuth Chan-ocha said all routes out of Thailand were being closely monitored.
“I just learned that she did not show up [at court],” he told reporters.
“I have ordered border checkpoints to be stepped up.”
Prawit Wongsuwan initially said he had no information on Yingluck Shinawatra’s whereabouts but as he left a meeting in Bangkok he said: “It is possible that she has fled already.”
Earlier, Yingluck Shinawatra’s lawyer requested a delay in the ruling, telling the court that she had vertigo and a severe headache and was unable to attend.
However, an official Supreme Court statement said it did not believe she was sick as there was no medical certificate and that the claimed sickness was not severe enough that she could not travel to court.
“Such behavior convincingly shows that she is a flight risk. As a result, the court has issued an arrest warrant and confiscated the posted bail money,” the statement said.
Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother, controversial former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, lives in exile after fleeing the country in 2008 to evade a jail term for corruption.
Today’s turn of events took many by surprise, including the hundreds of people who turned up outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok to support Yingluck Shinawatra.
Some supporters outside the court expressed understanding.
Yingluck Shinawatra, who became Thailand’s first female prime minister in 2011, was impeached in 2015 over the rice scheme by a military-backed legislature, which then brought the legal case.
The scheme, part of her election campaign platform, launched shortly after she took office.
It was aimed at boosting farmers’ incomes and alleviating rural poverty, and saw the government paying farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crop.
However, the measure hit Thailand’s rice exports hard, leading to a loss of at least $8 billion and huge stockpiles of rice which the government could not sell.
Though popular with her rural voter base, opponents said the scheme was too expensive and open to corruption.
During her trial, Yingluck Shinawatra had argued she was not responsible for the day-to-day running of the scheme. She has insisted she is a victim of political persecution.