A wrecked Ferrari, a dead cop and a fugitive heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune – 10 years later, Thailand is no closer to solving one of its most high-profile hit-and-run cases.
Steal ‘Boss’ Yuvidya, a prince from the Red Bull energy drink family, is accused of crashing his sports car into police officer Wichean Glanprasert’s motorcycle in Bangkok’s wealthiest district ten years ago on Saturday.
After eluding prosecutors and finally escaping Thailand in a private jet in 2017, Vorayuut has become a symbol of what critics say is the kingdom’s super-rich impunity.
“The perception of different justice systems for different sections of society undermines people’s trust in the ability of the Thai state to fulfill its responsibility to protect the human rights of all Thais,” Amnesty International Thailand told AFP.
As the grandson of Red Bull co-founder Chaleo Yuvidya, who died in 2012, Vorayut belongs to a clan worth $26.4 billion, making him the second richest family in Thailand, according to Forbes.
“This family is strong not only in Thailand but all over the world,” Thai political scientist Pavin Chachawalpongpun of Kyoto University told AFP.
– Glamorous lifestyle –
Within hours of the crash, investigators traced the trail of brake fluid to the Yuvidya family’s home in Bangkok, where they found a badly dented car with a shattered windshield.
Police initially accepted the allegation that an employee was driving, but Vorayut became the prime suspect, with his family later paying $100,000 in compensation to the victim’s relatives, according to the BBC and the New York Times.
For five years Vorayut played cat and mouse, dodging subpoenas, claiming through his lawyers that he was abroad on business or ill, while photographs documented a lifestyle traveling the world: living in London, racing Red Bull or field trip. beach holidays and ski trips.
Charges of speeding, drunk driving and failure to provide assistance expired before a Bangkok court belatedly issued an arrest warrant in 2017.
By then Vorayut had already fled.
In 2020, the Thai authorities cleared all charges against Varyut, which caused a huge public outcry, including a social media campaign calling for #BoycottRedBull.
Amid the backlash, TCP Group – parent company of Red Bull Thailand – pulled the firm out of the case, saying the issue was a private matter.
As anger escalated and youth-led anti-government demonstrations grew in the streets, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s office ordered an audit that concluded that the entire investigation had been “compromised.”
Human rights activists countered the dragging out of the Worayut case with the quick action taken against leaders of anti-government protests, many of whom faced multiple royal defamation charges that carry prison sentences of up to 15 years.
Thailand’s Attorney General’s Office has filed new charges against Woryuit, and in September 2020, Interpol issued a red notice for his arrest.
Last March’s update states that Vorayut was trying to access Red Notice and was likely in France at the time.
The notice also mentioned Austria, where Red Bull is headquartered, as a possible location.
– One charge left –
The cocaine charge expired last month, Thailand’s Attorney General’s Office said, leaving prosecutors with only one avenue to prosecute Woryut: dangerous driving resulting in death, which could result in up to 10 years in prison.
The AG office told AFP that the charge is valid until 2027. Few, however, expect Vorayut to face trial.
“From the very beginning, many expected how it would all end,” Pavin said, noting the intense public anger surrounding the case.
“Rich people who get away with crime have become the norm in Thai society. The Thais don’t accept that this is normal.”