Viewpoint by Jan Servaes*
BRUSSELS (IDN) — A crashed Ferrari, a dead police officer and a fugitive heir to a multibillion-dollar fortune—ten years later, Thailand is no closer to solving one of its most infamous hit-and-run crimes. Red Bull’s story, according to the Indian news channel WION (World Is On News), is again “a reminder of how the rich and powerful in Thailand escape the law”.
Just before dawn
In the early morning of September 3, 2012, Mr Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhaya, then 27 years old, rammed his grey Ferrari into a motorcycle driven by Pol Snr Sg Maj Wichian Klanprasert of Thong Lor Police Station in Bangkok. The policeman died on the spot. His body was dragged along the road for more than 100 meters before Vorayuth fled.
The badly dented Ferrari was found at his family’s home. He was arrested but released shortly afterwards. Subsequently, he was repeatedly subpoenaed to press charges against him, but each time his lawyers said he was unable to do so, citing overseas work commitments and illness.
At the end of 2012 he fled abroad.
Thai authorities finally issued an arrest warrant for Vorayuth five years after the accident, after he missed eight legal summonses. Police claimed they did not know his whereabouts, while media regularly spotted him in London, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Social media posts from him and his jet-set friends suggest he has been to Thailand many times and travels the world to motor racing competitions or beach resorts.
Vorayuth is the grandson of Chaleo Yoovidhaya, who co-founded the Red Bull empire with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz. At the time of his death in 2012, Chaleo was the third richest person in Thailand, according to the billionaire magazine Forbes, with a net worth of $5 billion.
Today, the extended Yoovidhya family is believed to be worth more than $20 billion. The Red Bull logo is now seen all over the world, especially when sponsoring spectacular stunts, sporting events and music festivals.
“Boss” was charged by police for his hit-and-run of several things: reckless driving at high speed (@177km/h) with fatal outcome, after a drug test cocaine was found in his body, and not stopping for a victim of an accident.
While Vorayuth was abroad, some of the “prescription” charges were dropped. However, the charge—reckless driving resulting in death—will remain valid until 2027.
The affair was heavily commented on social media and caused quite a public outcry. Questions were even raised in parliament about the ongoing issue that forced Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-cha to reopen the case, issue an arrest warrant, and call in Interpol. But to date, 10 years after his hit-and-run,
Vorayuth remains a fugitive and, unlike some student activists, has not spent a day in jail. The closely watched case on social media has led to criticism that the Thai elite enjoy special treatment by the authorities.
Red Bull hit-and-run prosecutor fired
On December 3, Jon Whitman now reports in The Thaiger that prosecutor Chainarong Saengthong-aram has been fired by the Public Prosecution Service. The former senior prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office (OAG) was fired after tampering with evidence in the case involving Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya.
An initial report showed that Vorayuth was driving his Ferrari at 177 kilometres per hour when he hit and killed a police officer in Bangkok in 2012. The estimated speed was later reduced to less than 80 km/h. Based on this slower speed, former Attorney General Nate Naksuk dropped a death by reckless-driving charge against Vorayuth.
The OAG’s office has since confirmed that evidence relating to the car’s speed had been tampered with and that Chainarong had reportedly already tendered his resignation.
An investigative panel recommended that Nate be fired and given the highest possible sentence for his transgressions, but prosecutors decided his misdeeds were minor and passed the bill to the OAG.
Attorney General Naree Tantasathien also disagreed with the panel, proposing that Nate’s sentence be reduced from an outright discharge and loss of pension to an internal transfer with his pension unaffected.
In May, the President of the Prosecutor’s Office, Patchara Yutithamdamrong, ruled that Nate had committed gross negligence, seriously damaging the reputation and authority of the OAG under Sections 85 and 87 of the Civil Service Act 2010, and decided to dismiss him, but later reduced the sentence to allow him to keep his office. plus his pension, “after years of selfless devotion to duty”.
Impunity for the super rich
Justice for Wichien Klanprasert and his family, the slain motorcycle cop, is further away than ever. Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, meanwhile, has become a symbol of what critics say is the impunity enjoyed by the super-rich in the kingdom.
“The perception of different legal systems for different segments of society cripples people’s confidence in the ability of the Thai state to fulfill its responsibility to protect human rights for all Thai people,” Amnesty International Thailand told AFP.
“This family is not only powerful in Thailand, but they are also very powerful globally,” Thai political analyst Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University told AFP.
As anger mounted and youth-led anti-government demonstrations grew in the streets, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-cha’s office ordered a review, which found that the entire investigation had been “compromised”.
Rights activists contrasted the drag in the Vorayuth case with swift action against protest leaders, many of whom were charged with royal libel, the so-called lese majeste, which carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
In September, charges for Vorayuth’s cocaine use expired, leaving prosecutors with only one option to prosecute Vorayuth: reckless driving resulting in death. It carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. This charge will remain valid until 2027. However, few expect Vorayuth to face trial.
“Even from the beginning, a lot of people suspected how it would end,” Pavin said. “Rich people getting away with crime has become so normal in Thai society. However, Thai people do not accept that this is okay.
Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) aims to map corruption in the world. Of the ASEAN countries surveyed in the 2020 GCB, Thais had the least confidence in their government. 71 percent of respondents said they had no confidence at all or not much confidence. They also showed the lowest confidence in the courts (40 percent indicated little or no confidence), the police (with 59 per cent no or little confidence).
Thailand is also the only country where a majority of respondents (73 per cent) said the government was doing poorly in its anti-corruption measures.
Given the country’s political trajectory since the 2014 coup, this is hardly surprising. According to the Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2022 (BTI), Thailand has seen a reduction in political participation after the 2014 coup, with Thai citizens trapped between “the autocratic control of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)” and a “near absolutist monarchy”.
In addition, the BTI has criticized the fact that there is no de facto separation of powers anymore, that dissent was significantly suppressed and that corruption cases against officials were brought against members of the former regime for political reasons only, while suspicions against representatives of the junta and its affiliates are not investigated.
While the junta government came to power promising to curb corruption, there is ample evidence that corruption has actually increased since then. While the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), working for the junta, had stated that it would investigate all officials suspected of corruption, matters have become highly politicised.
According to the BTI, for instance, several members of the junta-appointed national legislative assembly displayed unusual amounts of wealth, a fact that “no court has dared to investigate”.
O tempora, O mores! in amazing Thailand.
Jan Servaes was UNESCO-Chair in Communication for Sustainable Social Change at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He taught ‘international communication’ in Australia, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, the US, Netherlands and Thailand, in addition to short-term projects at about 120 universities in 55 countries. He is editor of the 2020 Handbook on Communication for Development and Social Change.
https://link.springer.com/referencework/10.1007/978-981-10-7035-8 [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 December 2022]
Photo: Screenshot Red Bull’s story told by the Indian news channel WION (World Is On News), on “how the rich and powerful in Thailand escape the law”.
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
We believe in the free flow of information. Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, except for articles that are republished with permission.