‘Red Bull heir” case sees credibility of Thai justice crash in 2020
Public faith in Thailand’s legal system was rocked this year when Red Bull scion Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya’s hit-and-run case shed light on the tug-of-war between justice and powerful connections.
Vorayuth, accused in a fatal 2012 road accident, returned to the spotlight in 2020 after CNN reported in late June that Thai police had backed the Office of the Attorney General (OAG)’s decision to drop all charges against the heir to Thailand’s second-richest family.
The decision enraged public opinion, which was already inflamed by years of foot-dragging in the investigation and prosecution of Vorayuth’s case.
On September 3, 2012, Vorayuth crashed his Ferrari into motorcycle policeman Wichian Klanprasert, dragging the victim for several hundred metres down the road before fleeing to his family’s estate on Sukhumvit Soi 53.
According to Thailand’s Institute of Justice, most cases of “reckless driving causing death” take no more than 14 days to investigate and another eight days for the public prosecutor to decide whether to take them to court.
Yet Vorayuth’s case has somehow languished for the past eight years. After postponing his indictment meetings no less than seven times, he flew out of Thailand in 2017.
The drunk driving charge was quickly dropped because police had inexplicably failed to test him for alcohol at the time of the accident. Meanwhile the statute of limitations expired one by one on charges of speeding, reckless driving causing injury, and failing to stop to aid the victim.
When police finally confirmed the CNN report that authorities had dropped the last and most serious charge of fatal reckless driving, Thais understandably lost their patience.
Public uproar over the decision saw hashtags like #ThaiJailsAreOnlyForThePoor mushroom on social media. The growing anger forced Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha to intervene in late July, when he set up a committee to review the case.
But one day after the committee was set up, key witness Jaruchart Mardthong was killed in a road accident just days before he was due to testify before a House committee. His death added fuel to public suspicion and anger about the case.
By early September, the review panel led by renowned legal scholar Prof Vicha Mahakun recommended Vorayuth’s case be revived, citing evidence of collusion by government officials, law-enforcement agencies, public prosecutors and witnesses.
The OAG duly reinstated the fatal crash charge and also tossed in a fresh charge of cocaine abuse against Vorayuth.
By early October, Interpol had issued a red notice against the Red Bull heir, in a mark of Thailand’s renewed effort to bring him to justice.
Members of the Yoovidhya clan began publicly distancing themselves from Vorayuth to minimise the scandal’s impact on their business.
For several months, hope grew in Thailand that the long arm of the law would finally grab the wanted man.
However, evidence suggests someone powerful is still pulling strings for this rich and well-connected suspect.
The OAG is now apparently reluctant to take legal action against Vorayuth. On December 9, it said public prosecutors could not indict Vorayuth on the drug charge until he is physically arrested and brought to trial. The Interpol website has taken Vorayuth off its “wanted” list.
Meanwhile the jet-setting fugitive continues to be spotted in various top destinations around the world.
However, after eight years there is no sign his hit-and-run case will fade from public attention anytime soon.
Thais are still awaiting the outcome, certain this case will prove which is stronger in Thailand – justice or the power of the super-rich.