BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan on Wednesday denied allegations that the executive branch conspired with the prosecutors to drop charges against a billionaire accused of a fatal hit-and-run in 2012.
PM Prayut said the government was never influenced by the family of Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya into dropping the charges, despite reports that the clan has donated a large sum of money to the police in recent years. Deputy PM Prawit also said he didn’t even know Vorayuth personally.
“They don’t have power to do so,” Prawit said. “I don’t know his family. I don’t know him personally either. They never approached me for help.”
Their denial followed speculation that the junta-appointed committee on justice system and police affairs might have helped Vorayuth, whose family owns the Red Bull empire, to get away with the charges related to the crash in 2012.
The most serious offense accuses Vorayuth of reckless driving that resulted in death.
Vorayuth has never appeared in court, and an arrest warrant wasn’t issued against him until 2018.
Media reports say the delay was caused by a letter sent by Vorayuth’s lawyer to the junta-appointed committee and the prosecutors, complaining of unspecified ‘unfairness’ in the case.
The petition reportedly forced the investigators to reevaluate the evidence and eyewitness’ accounts.
What conflict of interest?
A report published earlier this week also revealed that the Yoovidhya family has donated a sum of 300 million baht to the government and the police. The donation was allegedly made after PM Prayut asked top-earning tycoons in April to come up with plans to assist the public in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Prayut’s call for advice did not solicit any money, the government accepted the donations from the Yoovidhya family anyway. Deputy PM Prawit today insisted no special arrangements were made.
“There’s nothing about it,” Prawit said. “It’s just like other tycoons.”
Citing public interest, PM Prayut signed an executive order to set up a committee to probe into the case on Wednesday. The committee is chaired by a legal professor and is expected to spell out its findings within 30 days.
Thonglor police superintendent Samphan Leungsajjakul and the former case officer Viradol Tubtimdee also reported themselves to the separate committee set up by the police on Wednesday morning.
Advisor to the national police commissioner Sattawat Hiranburana, who headed the committee, said his task does not seek to reverse the prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges since the case is already concluded.
The committee will instead question whether the decision made by assistant police chief Permpoon Chidchob not to contest the prosecutors was legal, he said.
The committee will conclude its findings within 15 days.