A spokesman for the Royal Thai Police on Friday said police are powerless to interfere in the decision by the prosecutor in the case to drop the last remaining charge of causing the death of an on-duty police officer through reckless driving in September 2012. He indicated that all warrants and requests to have 35-year-old ‘Boss’ or Vorayuth Yoovidhya arrested will now be withdrawn and he is free to return to Thailand.
Opposition MPs and social activists have predictably come out firing over the weekend after Friday’s bombshell announcement, first revealed on international news channel CNN, that a wealthy fugitive from the law is free to return to Thailand when the final charge in the case against him was dropped at the end of June. If true, the decision to drop the case against Red Bull heir, Vorayuth Yoovidhya, who on September 3rd 2012 mowed down a serving police officer in his high powered luxury Ferrari sports car, will have come just days after the National Anti Corruption Commission found some police involved in the investigation of the case guilty of mild dereliction of duty.
Thailand was left stunned on Friday when police at Thonglor police station confirmed a report to news agency Reuters.
The report suggested all arrest warrants for Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the heir to the multi-billion dollar Red Bull empire, had been withdrawn in respect of the last and most serious charge against him, that of causing the death through dangerous driving of an on-duty police sergeant on the 3rd of September 2012 between Sukhumvit 47 and Sukhumvit 49 in Bangkok.
It comes just weeks after a spokesman for Thailand’s public prosecutor’s office, Prayut Petchun, warned that police must expedite efforts to bring the now 35-year-old man to justice before the statute of limitations on the case was due to expire in 2027.
Decision reportedly made by the local prosecutor’s office in Bangkok at the end of June
However, on Friday, it was reported that the decision had been made by the Thai prosecutor’s office to drop all remaining charges against Mr Vorayuth.
47-year-old Police Sergeant Major Wichian Klanprasert had been hit by a grey-black coloured, high powered, Ferrari while riding on his motorbike at high speed by the then 27-year-old young man who was arrested the next day and taken to the Police General hospital for tests.
Corruption Commission found police shortcomings in the investigation into the death of the Thonglor police sergeant, described the infractions as ‘light’
There followed a delay in pressing charges against the wealthy Red Bull heir which became the subject of an enquiry by the National Anti Corruption Commission. This found shortcomings in the police handling of the investigation at Thonglor Police station.
On June 26th, it found several officers guilty of what it termed ‘light’ disciplinary violations. Police authorities later confirmed that all those officers still on service had faced disciplinary action.
One of the questions investigated by the commission was the absence of any charge against the suspect in the case linked with drugs.
Red Bull heir charged in 2017 but flew out of Thailand on a private jet to Singapore and then reportedly on to the UK where he was spotted at social gatherings
Notwithstanding this, Mr Vorayuth was subsequently charged on three counts in April 2017 but fled the kingdom by private plane two days beforehand.
He flew first to Singapore and was later reported as staying in the United Kingdom. He was photographed there on numerous occasions at social gatherings.
Since then, there have been efforts to have him arrested including the issuance of a red Interpol notice which mysteriously disappeared off the international police agency’s listings in March 2018.
Mounting public concern as much as anger
This weekend, after the initial shock at the decision and a lack of explanation from authorities, there is mounting public concern and indeed anger, particularly from online groups.
Thailand has been regarded as a country that is tough on law and order. It has a chronic problem with prison overcrowding. The kingdom has the 6th largest prison population in the world with an imprisonment rate of 445 per 100,000.
Nearly 5% of Thailand’s prison population are foreigners who have fallen foul of the law in the kingdom.
There is also an acute problem with female imprisonment where 87% of those incarcerated have been put there because of minor drug possession offences.
The deteriorating economic position in Thailand and increased inequality since 2015 makes this decision all the more stark and difficult for many observers to understand.
News of the charge being dropped came on CNN
News of the dropping of the last remaining charge against Mr Vorayuth first emerged on the foreign TV news channel CNN. It reported that a letter had been sent to Mr Vorayuth via his former address in Thonglor.
The letter stated unequivocally that all charges had been dropped against the suspect and that the case, as far as the police were concerned, had ended.
The communication also suggested that Thailand’s National Police Commissioner, Chakthip Chaijinda, did not challenge the order.
Attorney General unaware of the decision when confronted by press, police spokesman gave details
Official reaction to the announcement has been confusing. Thailand’s Attorney General appeared unaware of the decision.
‘I don’t know about it yet. The report has not reached me yet. I need to look at the details first,’ he announced.
More details were supplied by Royal Thai Police spokesman, Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen.
He indicated that a decision on the matter had been taken at a local level by the Office of Criminal Litigation in Southern Bangkok.
Colonel Kissana said that this decision was taken at the end of June.
Colonel Kissana indicated that officers involved in the case agreed with the decision not to prosecute
At a press conference, which addressed the issue, Colonel Kissana said that police involved with the case had agreed with the decision not to proceed with a criminal prosecution against the exiled Red Bull heir for dangerous driving causing the death of Police Sergeant Major Wichian Klanprasert in September 2012.
Colonel Kissana pointed out that, even if the police did not agree with the decision, they had no power to intervene.
‘Whether police oppose the prosecutors’ decision or not depends on the witnesses and evidence, not on social demand. The officers who poorly handled the case in 2012 have already faced disciplinary action,’ he said.
He explained that police had been tasked with obtaining additional evidence in relation to the case which would have required further interrogation of Mr Vorayuth, also known as ‘Boss’.
‘Boss’ can now return to Thailand without fear of arrest according to the senior police officer
The police officer stated unequivocally that the 35-year-old suspect in the case can now return to Thailand without fear of imminent arrest.
‘Mr Vorayuth can now return to Thailand without any problem. At this moment, we don’t know where he is,’ Colonel Kissana explained.
Later, a spokesman for the Office of the Judiciary pointed out that the arrest warrant in Thailand for ‘Boss’ was still in force and that police had not yet requested its cancellation.
News has drawn criticism from opposition MPs and activists across the political spectrum
The announcement has predictably drawn fire from the opposition in parliament.
Police Major Chavalit Laoha-udom of the Move Forward Party, who personally worked on the case against Mr Vorayuth, suggested that he was disturbed by the decision by the local prosecutor.
He said he was convinced that a viable case existed against Mr Vorayuth from his work as a former forensics officer.
Human rights lawyer Varaporn Uthairangsi was also aghast.
She said that authorities could have demanded greater assistance from Interpol, the international police organisation, to bring Mr Vorayuth back to Thailand in pursuit of justice.
‘This decision undermines public trust in the justice system,’ she declared. She called on the public prosecutor’s office involved with the case to publicly explain the decision.
Conservative activist says the decision suggests favouritism and is calling for a further enquiry
Srisuwan Janya, who was vocal this week in his opposition to what he termed illegal student protests last Saturday in Bangkok, found himself at the end of the week also in opposition to this move which he declared may constitute an act which favours one Thai citizen over another.
He is seeking to have the National Anti-Corruption Commission probe the decision to withdraw the sole outstanding charge against Vorayuth Yoovidhya or ‘Boss’.