(27 March) The Saudi Arabian government's decision of whether to renew its relationship with Thailand depends on the verdict in the decades-long case of the missing Saudi businessman, which is due next Monday, its top diplomat said.
The case dated back to the shadowy "Blue Diamond" in the late 1980s, when several Thai citizens were allegedly involved in stealing numerous jewels from a Saudi Arabian palace, including a blue diamond reputed to belong to the Faisal Royal Family.
The diamonds were never fully recovered, and many Thais whispered the rumour that some of the jewels – including the prestigious Blue Diamond – are currently in the possession of highly influential figures.
The theft was also accompanied by a spate of murders and abduction of individuals thought to be connected to the incident. In 1989, three Saudi diplomats were shot dead in Bangkok, and three months earlier Mr. Mohammad Al-Ruwaili, a Saudi businessman with connection to the Faisal Royal Family went missing.
The government of Saudi Arabia retaliated by freezing diplomatic ties with Thailand and imposing many penalties, such as severe travel and work quota restrictions.
Neither the murders of the diplomats nor the disappearance of Mr. Al-Ruwaili were ever solved, though, following a retrial in 2010, a group of police officers are facing charges of abducting and murdering Mr. Al-Ruwaili. The defendants deny the allegation.
The court ruling is scheduled on 31 March, 24 years after Mr. Al-Ruwaili was last seen in Bangkok, and Mr. Abdulelah Alsheaiby, Charge d'Affaires of Saudi Arabia to Thailand, told Khaosod in an exclusive interview at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia yesterday that the verdict might help the two nations resume a normal relationship after the long thaw lasting for two decades.
"[The verdict] is very important," Mr. Alsheaiby said, "The effort to restore the relationship between the two countries depends on this case,"
The head of the Saudi mission stressed that the government and the family of Mr. Al-Ruwaili are not looking for any particular result, whether guilty or not-guilty, as they are only seeking "justice" from the Thai authorities, after decades of silence over the case.
"We have told the Thai officials many times that our relationship will go back to normal if justice is done," Mr. Alsheaiby went on, adding that he is hopeful that such justice will be shown next Monday in front of relatives of Mr. Al-Ruwaili, who will be flying in from Saudi Arabia to attend the ruling.
However, Mr. Alsheaiby's optimism has been somewhat marred by reports that a judge who had presided over the case for three years was abruptly replaced weeks ago. The head of the Saudi mission claimed that the Thai authorities gave no explanation, and that he discovered the alleged judge replacement from the lawyer representing Mr. Al-Ruwaili's family
Asked about the reports of judge change, officials at the Criminal Court refused to comment on the news, stating that they were not informed about the matter.
"We trust them, but now we want to know why," Mr. Alsheaiby said, "There's no explanation at all".
Once the verdict has been read, Mr. Alsheaiby told our correspondent, the Saudi government, including a special commission appointed by the King of Saudi Arabia himself, will deliberate on the next action.
A "positive" result would spur a move to normalise the diplomatic ties between the two kingdoms, Mr. Alsheaiby promised, while a "negative" one might be met with further legal appeal either from the Saudi government or the family of Mr. Al-Ruwaili, although the diplomat insisted it is too early to specify.
He also asked the Thai public to understand that the clarity of Mr. Al-Ruwaili's case is very important to the Saudis, as all previous incidents – such as the jewelry theft and murders of the Saudi diplomats – already ended in mystery in which no one was held accountable. "This is our last hope to see justice," Mr. Alsheaiby said.
He added, "It's been 24 years. We want to know who killed our people. Saudi blood is not cheap. It's unacceptable that no one has been held responsible for so long".
When asked about the connection between the disappearance of Mr. Al-Ruwaili and the elusive diamonds, Mr. Alsheaiby acknowledged that he has been asked by so many Thais about the matter, but he insisted that their focus has been misplaced.
"Everyone always asked about the diamonds, but life is more important," Mr. Alsheaiby explained, "We don't want the diamonds back. We just want to see justice. We just want to know what happened to Mr. Al-Ruwaili".
"That life is a diamond to us," Mr. Alsheaiby said.