How the tide shifted in Red Bull heir case

FILE – In this April 5, 2017, file photo, Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, whose grandfather co-founded energy drink company Red Bull, walks to get in a car as he leaves a house in London. Thailand’s prime minister responded Wednesday, July 29, 2020, to growing public furor by ordering a probe into the dropping of criminal charges against the Thai heir to the Red Bull energy drink fortune accused of killing a policeman in a hit-and-run accident eight years ago. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

The tide appears to have turned against Red Bull heir Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, who just a month ago looked set to walk free from all legal responsibility for a fatal 2012 hit-and-run incident.

Police now are trying to bring two pertinent charges against Vorayuth – reckless driving causing death and cocaine abuse, which only came to light in recent weeks. National Police Commissioner Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda said he will oversee the fresh investigation himself.

This move is in response to intense public pressure and sudden scrutiny by relevant authorities, including four House/Senate committees and the fact-finding committee set up by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In June, police endorsed the Office of the Attorney-General’s  decision to drop all charges against the scion of Thailand’s second-richest family.

Facing growing public anger over the decision, Prayut moved to set up the fact-finding panel, which is led by renowned legal expert and graft-buster Vicha Mahakhun.

Meanwhile, the OAG and police launched their own internal investigations into how Vorayuth was let off the hook. This probe concluded that 14 policemen might have been guilty, 11 of whom have already been implicated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission over the handling of the case. This list does not include assistant national police chief Pol Lt-General PermpoonChidchob, a younger brother of influential veteran politician Newin Chidchob. Though Permpoon signed an order endorsing the OAG’s decision to drop the Vorayuth case, he has said he was just following protocol.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are also looking to see how action can be taken against Vorayuthon two charges – reckless driving causing the death of another person and cocaine abuse.

So far, the statute of limitations on four other possible charges, namely drunk driving, speeding, reckless driving causing damage to another person and fail to stop to aid the victim, have already expired.


A lengthy saga

On September 3, 2012, Vorayuth hit the motorcycle of policeman Wichian Klanprasertwith his Ferrari, dragging the victim along the road for a long distance before fleeing to his family’s estate on Sukhumvit Soi 53. His butler then came forward to claim responsibility for the accident, but was later rejected by police.

Ever since, the public has been keeping a close eye on the case over fears that yet another super-rich crime suspect would manage to elude Thai justice.

Vorayuth’s grandfather Chaleo created the Red Bull brand that helped the Yoovidhya family build a massive fortune. Chaleo’s eldest son, who is Vorayuth’s father, is estimated to be worth about US$20.2 billion.

As of press time, Vorayuth’s name was not included on Interpol’s wanted list, confirming reports last month that Thai arrest warrants for the Red Bull heir had been revoked following the OAG’s decision to drop the case. The OAG made the decision on June 12, but it took another six weeks before the news became public, in what many slammed as yetanother example of a lack transparency surrounding the case.

Had the public had not woken up to the controversy, the case would have been quietly closed. However, after growing outrage and intense scrutiny, the powers-that-be decided to review the investigation.


Suspicious Death

Simmering public anger boiled over with news that a key witness had died following a motorcycle crash in Chiang Mai on July 30. Police ruled that Jaruchart Mardthong had accidentally collided with another bike, but the timing of his death sparked public suspicion. Jaruchart was killed just one day after Prayut set up the Vicha-led committee to probe the investigation and only days before he was to testify before a House committee. Jaruchart had earlier testified that Vorayuthwas not speeding when he hit the police officer in 2012.

Facing renewed public uproar, the OAG and police switched their stance and now seem keen to take legal action against the Red Bull heir.

Though the statute of limitations has expired on four charges, there are seven years left to bring Vorayuth to court over the charge of reckless driving causing death and two years to bring him to court over cocaine abuse.

The OAG has also said it may have fresh evidence proving that Vorayuth was speeding at the time of the accident, which would confirm his recklessness, and that he was under the influence of cocaine. Both these pieces of evidence were omitted from the initial official police report.

Dr Sathon Vijarnwannaluk, a physics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, estimated Vorayuth was driving his Ferrari at 177 km/hwhen he hit the victim.

Meanwhile, former Bangkok deputy governor and trained engineer Samart Ratchapolsittecalculated the Ferrari was travelling at 126km/h. Both calculations far exceed the 79km/h estimate by university lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Saiprasit Kerdniyom, which was included in the investigation report.

Evidence of cocaine abuse emerged just last month. Upset with the decision not to prosecute Vorayuth, a lawyer released results of a blood test taken by the Red Bull heir just after the hit-and-run incident. It came back positive for metabolytes showing cocaine abuse.

Police investigators in charge of the case said they omitted the test from their report after experts told them false positives for cocaine can occur as a result of some kinds of treatment.

Police are now set to initiate cocaine abuse charges against Vorayuth given that doctors have confirmed that amoxycillin prescribed for his dental treatment did not contain cocaine.

Bigwigs implicated

Deputy Attorney-General Net Naksuk, who dismissed the final charge against Vorayuth, handed in his resignation this week and now faces the OAG internal probe. He was due to retire on September 30 but can apply to extend his tenure for another five years.

Net, Permpoon, Vorayuth’s lawyer SamakChaowapanan and Pol Colonel ThanasitTaengchan of the Office of Forensic Science testified before two House committees earlier this week. They all denied any wrongdoing.

Net said he had resolved to drop the case based on the police investigation report, mainly in terms of the speed at which Vorayuth was said to have been driving.

Thanasit, meanwhile, said he did not dispute the estimated speed put forward by Saiprasitbecause he could not find any flaws initially. However, after he discovered it was a mistake, he tried unsuccessfully to have the investigation report changed.  He claimed that he was told by his superior that the report had already been submitted to the public prosecutor.

Former deputy attorney general Net insisted that his decision to drop the case against Vorayuth was based on the police report which  put the suspect’s car speed at 79 km/h at the time of the incident.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk


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