Thailand’s Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin has given an assurance that protection for any witness connected with the Red Bull case is available from his ministry whether they are a government official or civilian. It comes as the chairman of two investigative panels in the course of the last two weeks have expressed concern for the safety and welfare of a key witness, a police officer with the Office of Forensic Science, following the accidental death in Chiang Mai of one of two eyewitnesses to the hit and run death of a Thai police officer on September 3rd 2012 when he was hit by Mr Vorayuth Yoovidhya’s Ferrari supercar on the Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. The case has sparked continuous controversy and has severely undermined confidence in the Thai system for the administration of justice since the last charge against the 35-year-old man was dropped at the end of June by a local prosecutor prompting an array of official inquiries.
Two Chairmen of separate inquiries have now expressed concern for the welfare of a senior police officer whose evidence was crucial to the decision at the end of June, this year, to drop the last charge against Vorayuth ‘ Boss’ Yoovidhya and close the case against him, nearly eight years after the incident. It has also emerged that the policeman, Police Colonel Thanasit Taengchan, has been in discussions with the Ministry of Justice regarding witness protection and has raised his own concerns about how he would be protected and the extent of surveillance.
Thailand’s justice minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, has indicated that a place on a witness protection programme is available to anyone whether they be a government official or private individual as various committees carry forward their investigations into the Red Bull hit and run case.
The key suspect in the case is Vorayuth Yoovidhya or ‘Boss’ whose Ferrari car was involved in a hit and run accident with Thonglor Police Sergeant, Wichian Klanprasert, on September 3rd 2012 leading to the officer’s death.
Liberties Protection Department at the Ministry of Justice had talks with the senior police officer
This follows evidence presented to a key inquiry into the scandal from the Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Ministry of Justice that it had been engaged in an extended conversation with the key witness in the case.
Police Colonel Thanasit Taengchan who works in the Office of Police Forensic Science, has emerged as a pivotal figure in the ongoing series of investigations.
Two experts, two opinions, one forming the basis for the reversal of the criminal charge against ‘Boss’
It was based on this evidence, adduced with the help of a top university expert named as Saiprasit Koetniyom, that led to the police officer changing his original testimony.
The original testimony arrived at also with the help of another expert, was that the Ferrari on the morning of September 3rd 2012, had been driving at 177 km per hour.
The evidence put forward by the police officer following a meeting with a new expert in February 2016, asserted that the car had been driving within the speed limit.
Mr Saiprasit is a respected expert, the Director of Automotive Safety and Assessment Engineering at King Mongkut University of Technology.
Based on the new evidence, Police Colonel Thanasit, along with another police officer, revised his evidence to suggest that the car was travelling at 76.17 km per hour when it collided with the policeman.
Original expert stands by his evidence as key police officer recants his second opinion on car’s speed
It has emerged, in recent weeks, that the original expert called in, Sathon Vijarnwannaluk, a physics expert from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Science, has stood by his evidence based on analysis of CCTV footage that the car was travelling at the higher speed.
In giving evidence before the House of Representatives Committee in recent weeks, Police Colonel Thanasit Taengchan has retracted his second opinion and again agrees with his first assessment at the higher speed.
Slower speed was key to the decision by Assistant Attorney General Nate Natsuk to drop the remaining criminal charge against ‘Boss’ Vorayuth
It was on this basis, together with two eyewitnesses to the accident, that the assistant attorney general Nate Natsuk decided at the end of June not to proceed with the prosecution of the last remaining charge against Mr Vorayuth and close the file on the case.
Essentially, between the lower speed and the two statements from eyewitnesses to the accident which found that police officer Sergeant Major Wichian was driving dangerously, the prosecutor concluded that the accident was inevitable and that the charge against Mr Yoaravuth should not be pursued further.
This is still the position despite the ongoing investigations and speculation on further charges that have arisen.
Police officer claims pressure was placed on him
Police Colonel Thanasit, according to the Chairman of the House Committee of Law, Justice and Human Rights, Sira Jenjaka, investigating the controversy, was encouraged to change his evidence by a superior officer.
Mr Sira told the committee, last week, that Police Colonel Thanasit had intimated this to him when he spoke with him before he gave evidence.
However, before the committee, his evidence was that he was simply introduced to the new expert witness, Mr Saiprasit.
It is also understood that after this, Police Colonel Thanasit attempted to retract and change his evidence back to the original assessment on which the first charges against Mr Vorayuth were based.
Concerned about who would be protecting him
It is understood that Police Colonel Thanasit’s interaction with the Liberties Protection Department of the Ministry of Justice related to his concern over who would be protecting him if he joined the witness protection programme.
He also wanted to maintain some element of privacy and was concerned about full surveillance of his activities.
Accidental death of one of two eye witnesses in a motorbike accident contributed to disquiet
Apprehension for the police officer rose sharply when one of the eyewitnesses linked to the case, Mr Jaruchart Mardthong, died in a motorbike accident in the northern city of Chiang Mai prompting a police investigation and autopsy on his body due to what were thought initially to be suspicious circumstances.
However, police in Chiang Mai later ruled that the death was a coincidental, freak accident after the man fell off his motorbike.
They did charge a friend of Mr Jrauchat for stealing his smartphone from the hospital where he was pronounced dead and destroying the data on the device which police retrieved.
They are reported to be now in the process of restoring the data.
Two Chairmen of separate inquiries express personal trepidation for Police Colonel Thanasit
At the Council of State hearing this week, the Chairman, Mr Vicha Mahakun, expressed personal trepidation for the welfare of the senior police officer.
Similar sentiments were expressed last week by the Chairman of the house committee, Mr Sira, who is a Palang Pracharat Party MP.
Former police chief denies any links with the case
The investigation at the Office of the Council of State also heard this week from the former national police chief, Police General Somyot Poompanmoung.
The former police boss brought his own expert witness, another university lecturer, to provide evidence regarding the possible speed of the Ferrari car in the Vorayuth Yoovidhya case.
The former police chief told the inquiry that he had no involvement with the case, at that time, and was not involved in introducing Police Colonel Thanasit to any potential witness.
The former policeman asserted that on the day in question he was in Switzerland.
This followed a comment by Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome who observed that a report from the House of Representatives Committee had claimed that it was the former police chief who introduced Police Colonel Thanasit to Mr Saiprasit of King Mongkut University of Technology in February 2016.
Police panel report makes disturbing reading but clears senior officer after the charge was dropped
A committee set up by the current national police chief, General Chakthip Chaijinda, also filed its final report last week.
While the investigation found a range of glaring flaws with the police force’s conduct of the investigation following the deadly accident on September 3rd 2012, it found no fault with the decision, at the end of June, by Police Lieutenant General Permpoon Chidchob not to object to the decision of the assistant attorney general at the Office of Criminal Litigation in Southern Bangkok, to drop the case.
Recommended investigation into 11 officers
The inquiry recommended further investigation of 11 already suspended officers linked with the case based on earlier facts established by the National Anti Corruption Commission which reported on June 26th last.
The range of misconduct linked with the case is a wide one.
It includes lapses from the beginning of the first encounter police officers had with the young man, then 27-year-old suspect Mr Vorayuth after he was located following the accident in which a serving police officer died.
The report delivered earlier to the National Police chief, included details of an alleged failure to test the suspect’s urine, failing to keep evidence from witnesses to the incident and failure to have an arrest warrant issued through the public prosecutor’s office.
Thonglor police station found particularly at fault
The penetrating report also faulted Thonglor police station’s handling of the case and found it deficient in 10 key respects. It noted that the case was the subject of huge public interest and media attention from the outset.
This made these failures all the more spectacular.
Among further alleged failures identified by the report was a failure to keep a track of police who interacted with Mr Yoravuth at his home after he was hunted down following the fatal hit and run.
The report also states that police, remarkably, appeared not to have administered a urine test in the initial hours after the accident.
The investigation ordered into the mishandling of the case also found that police failed to take a witness statement from the suspect giving details of the accident, the location and timeline of events.
Faults failure to raise an illegal narcotics charge against ‘Boss’ also cited on police report
It also faults the decision by police to let the then young man out on bail instead of sending him to court immediately where he would have been detained pending a court bail hearing.
The report noted that ‘Boss’ was not initially charged with speeding by the police and no thought was given to a drug charge or reckless driving causing death even after a positive lab test result came back suggesting Mr Vorayuth had used cocaine leading up to the fatal crash.