PM Admits Mishandlings in ‘Boss Red Bull’ Case, Threatens Actions

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks at the Government House on Sept. 1, 2020.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks at the Government House on Sept. 1, 2020.

BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday said he will take both legal and disciplinary actions against unnamed officials who let the heir to an energy drink empire accused of killing a policeman in a 2012 car crash off the hook.

Gen. Prayut said at least 10 people were implicated by the fact-finding panel he set up to probe into the alleged misconduct over the prosecutors’ decision to drop all the charges against Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya. However, he did not identify any of them in today’s news conference.

“I don’t want to name them now. I know everyone wants to know, but if I give the names out right now, it will stir up tensions further,” Prayut said. “This is a doubtful case, so I don’t want people to distrust our laws and judiciary process.”

The 10 people are said to include police officers and prosecutors.

The panel, which consists mostly of legal experts, was convened by Prayut last month amid criticism from the public and virtually all sides on the political aisles. Similar committees were also set up by police and the prosecutor office.

Prayut said the respective agencies of those officials accused of negligence will take necessary actions against them. The panel will continue to work out ways to reform the laws to prevent the same graft from happening again, he added.

The Red Bull fortune heir stands accused of crashing his Ferrari into Sgt. Maj. Wichian Klanprasert, a policeman on patrol duty, and killing him in the red light district of Thong Lor back in 2012.

His case never made it to the court, and Vorayuth was allowed to leave the country just days before his arrest warrant was issued – five years after the fatal crash. The prosecutors quietly dropped all charges against him in July, provoking an uproar from the public.

Confirming what many already suspect, the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Vicha Mahakhun, said there was likely a “conspiracy” behind the case since he found a coordinated effort by both police and prosecutors to hold off the charge.

“Investigators didn’t work professionally. They didn’t take the charges seriously. For instance, they filed a DUI charge against the victim, which is not fair for him,” Vicha said. “A deputy prosecutor also accepted a complaint claiming unfair treatment filed by Vorayuth even though it was rejected 13 times by other prosecutors.”

He also said Lt. Col. Thanasit Taengchan, a forensic police officer who inspected the scene in 2012, was “pressured” to amend his conclusion about Vorayuth’s speed, a key evidence in the case.

“It was a dishonest effort, to conspire with each other and weaken the charges,” Vicha said. “I suggest the case to be reinvestigated, but I understand that some of the charges are already expired. Therefore, I suggest that the laws on statute of limitations should be amended by freezing the statute of limitations if the suspect fled.”

A separate panel set up by police had previously found 21 police officers, including a former metro police commander, to be negligent over the case, though the assistant police chief Permpoon Chidchob – who did not contest the prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges – was later cleared of the accusations.

Deputy assistant to the police commissioner Charuwat Waisaya, who chairs the panel, said an inquiry committee has been set up to take legal action against those 21 officers.

Five charges were pressed against Vorayuth in 2012 after he crashed his Ferrari into a patrol motorcycle driven by Sgt. Maj. Wichian and killed him at the scene.

He is believed to be residing overseas. Attempts to bring him to trial had been delayed for years before the charges were eventually dropped by the prosecutors on grounds that they lacked evidence.

A new warrant against Vorayuth was approved by a court last week. Police said they will make new efforts to bring him back to face justice in Thailand, though little details were given.