Monday, April 3, 2017

Thai Junta Provides No Justice For Dead Policeman

Red Bull heir gets away with murder
Vorayuth Yoovidhaya, the grandson of the billionaire who invented the energy drink Red Bull, has once again failed to appear at a Bangkok prosecutor's office to face charges for killing a police officer with his Ferrari in 2012.

The ongoing failure by the Thai military junta to bring Vorayuth to justice are now commonly cited as the most prominent example of the untouchability of the super-rich in Thailand.

Police Sergeant-Major Wichian Klanprasert was riding his motorbike along Bangkok's Sukhumvit Road when he was hit by a grey Ferrari, which dragged his body more than 300 feet down the road, before driving off.  Investigating officers followed a trail of brake fluid to a luxury home less than a kilometer away, owned by one of Thailand's wealthiest families.

The badly-dented Ferrari was there, but initially the police were persuaded by private guards to detain a driver employed by the family as their main suspect.  When the police subsequently discovered the car had actually been driven by 27-year-old Vorayuth, he was tested and found to have excessive alcohol in his blood - but he claimed this was from drinking at home after the accident.

The police calculated that Vorayuth was driving over 100 mph, over twice the speed limit.  It took the police six months to prepare criminal charges of speeding, reckless driving causing death, and fleeing the scene of an accident.  At the time, Bangkok police chief Kamronwit Thoopkrajang promised the public that the culprit in Sergeant-Major Wichian's death would be brought to justice, or he would resign.

Throughout 2013, Vorayuth failed to appear seven times to hear the charges, with his lawyers providing an array of justifications, from him being on business overseas to feeling unwell.  In September 2013 the prosecutor ordered police to arrest him after his seventh no-show, but nothing happened.  At the end of that month, the statute of limitations on the speeding charge expired. Against a backdrop of growing political turmoil in Thailand, the case faded from public view.

Public interest in it was revived only after a horrifying road accident last year, involving another wealthy young man who drove his luxury car at high speed into another vehicle, killing two graduate students.  People started asking what had happened to the Red Bull heir-- and the military junta, which had promised to address the abuses of previous governments, felt forced to act.

In March last year, the Attorney-General announced that he would once again press charges against Vorayuth.  But throughout 2016, lawyers for the Red Bull heir successfully postponed repeated requests for him to report to the prosecutor's office, claiming that their client had filed a complaint of unfair treatment to the National Legislative Assembly, the military-appointed parliament.

The police continue to insist they can do nothing.  Asked by the BBC why they have not issued an arrest warrant against the accused, as requested three and a half years ago, they said that it is up to the Attorney-General's office to act.  The Attorney-General's office says he cannot be indicted unless he appears in person.

According to his lawyers, Vorayuth is currently on business in the UK. The Attorney-General has once again granted a postponement, to next month.

The statute of limitations on the most serious charge against Vorayuth, of reckless driving causing death, expires in the year 2027.  Few people are betting that he will face any legal sanction, or any consequences before that deadline frees him completely.

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