Thai panel says officials impeded case against Red Bull heir

BANGKOK (AP) — A panel appointed by Thailand’s prime minister to look into the handling of the criminal case against an heir to the Red Bull energy drink fortune involving a fatal hit-and-run incident has found there was a conspiracy to shield him from prosecution and recommended that those involved face charges.

Vicha Mahakhun, a former Supreme Court judge who chaired the Factual and Legal Inquiry Committee, said at a news conference Tuesday that the conspiracy involved government officials, lawyers and a prosecutor.

A summary of their report went further, saying the deputy attorney general had acted illegally with the intention of protecting Vorayuth Yoovidhya, more commonly known by his nickname, Boss.

It also said the attorney general and the police commissioner could not deny responsibility as the heads of their organizations, and that the performance of the assistant police commissioner had been inadequate.

“We found that there was an organized effort to create a dishonest case,” said Vicha, who also has served with the National Anti-Corruption Commission. “You can describe the coordinated effort as a conspiracy to damage the case from the start. We have a saying: ‘A toxic tree yields a toxic fruit.’ It is inedible.”

Vicha said the effort included false evidence, delays and insincere attempts to determine Boss’ whereabouts, adding that disciplinary and criminal actions should follow.

The panel was one of several hurriedly set up after news leaked out that the last outstanding charge against Vorayuth had quietly been dropped in June by the deputy attorney general, Nate Naksuk. It ignited a storm of public outrage. Nate has since resigned.

Police say Vorayuth smashed his Ferrari into the back of a police officer’s motorbike around dawn on a major Bangkok road in September 2012. The officer was flung from the bike and died at the scene. The Red Bull heir drove home and was later arrested. Medical tests showed traces of alcohol and cocaine in his bloodstream, according to police.

But Vorayuth avoided further legal action by consistently failing to meet with prosecutors, while continuing to live a jet-set life.

Prosecutors finally issued an arrest warrant for him in April 2017, but by then he had fled abroad, where he remains. The warrant was withdrawn this year after the last charge was dropped, but police issued a new one after the public furor caused them to reopen the case.

The panel also recommended that the charges against Vorayuth be reinstated. In practical terms, that means just one charge — causing death by negligence — as all others have expired under the statute of limitations. However, police recently said they will add a drug charge that was not initially lodged against Vorayuth.

As a result of the case, the panel has engaged in detailed deliberations about reforming the Thai justice system.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday that this step was crucial.

“We cannot live without law,” he said. “There will be anarchy, not democracy, in our country. We can’t live that way. This will damage the country. We will lose the confidence of foreign nations. The economy won’t be stable. We’ll lose investment. What do we gain from that?”

The case has been taken up by anti-government protesters seeking to force the Prayuth administration from office as a prime example of the corruption bedeviling Thai society.


Associated Press videojournalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.

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