A billionaire scion of the Red Bull empire could yet face charges for the hit and run death of a Thai policeman in 2012, following widespread outrage in the politically unstable country after charges against him were dropped last month.
Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General has said that it is looking to reopen the case against Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, the 35-year-old grandson of the energy drink co-inventor.
An investigation into the police handling of the affair, which could see charges against Yoovidhya reinstated, was due this Thursday but the deadline has been extended by a week, the Bangkok Post reports.
Yoovidhya has become a hate figure in Thailand after his immensely rich family were accused of using their wealth and power to help him evade punishment for the 2012 Bangkok hit and run in which he killed a motorcycle cop while allegedly under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Yoovidhya persistently failed to show up for court hearings and left the country in 2017, days before a scheduled hearing.
His whereabouts are officially unknown but his image has popped up on social media accounts in chi-chi ski resorts and smart central London hotels and restaurants.
At the end of last month, Thai authorities announced they were dropping the case, saying that new evidence showed that Yoovidhya was driving at 49 mph, 1 mph under the 50 mph speed limit, not 110 mph as originally cited, and that therefore the crash was a merely an “unavoidable” accident.
Shortly afterwards, the witness whose testimony had resulted in the speed estimate being adjusted downwards, and who was expected to be called again to give evidence for inquiries examining why the charges were dropped, died in another motorcycle crash that is widely rumored locally to have been staged.
Public outrage over the dropping of the charges has fed into unprecedented pro-democracy protests rocking the country. More than 10,000 people gathered last weekend in the largest protest since a military junta overthrew the last democratically elected government in 2014.
The Office of the Attorney General then stated that, in fact, there was new evidence that the Ferrari was indeed traveling at 110 mph after all. The OAG said they were commissioning a fresh report into police corruption in the case, with a spokesperson appearing to put Yoovidhya on notice that he was not out of the woods, saying, “The main message we are sending today is that the OAG has revived the case, given breath back to it, so it can... bring ‘Boss’ back to the justice system.”
However, seasoned observers told The Daily Beast they very much doubted Yoovidhya would ever be held accountable by the justice system for the killing, as the delay this week in handing over the police report shows.
Andrew Marshall, a prominent authority on Thailand, who was formerly the Reuters bureau chief in Bangkok but is now banned from entering the country due to his critical journalism of the royal family, told The Daily Beast that the level of anger towards the government “is almost unprecedented and this case is feeding into it.”
“This, I think, is why they are suddenly backpedaling and pretending to revive the case,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it goes nowhere because in general these cases go nowhere. Normally what happens in these situations is that they set up a committee to consider it and that drags on for a year or two until everyone has forgotten about it. But this time they have to try and pretend that they are taking it seriously because of the febrile political atmosphere. The government is really rattled.”
Another ex-pat based in Bangkok told The Daily Beast that there was little surprise at the announcement that charges against Yoovidhya were to be dropped.
The killing, and the failure to bring Yoovidhya to book for the offense, has come to powerfully symbolize, for ordinary Thais, the impunity of the super-rich elite in Thailand.
However, even by Thai standards, Yoovidhya’s behavior was egregious. The police officer, Sgt. Maj. Wichean Glanprasert, the first member of his family to leave the rural coconut plantation on which they worked, was struck by Yoovidhya’s vehicle. The car dragged the 47-year-old policeman and his bike more than 100 yards down a busy Bangkok road, before driving off.
According to police, a trail of oil leaking from the sports car led investigators directly from the crash site to the compound of the Yoovidhyas, one of Thailand’s wealthiest families (Forbes estimates the family to be worth some $20.2 billion).
Initially, the family put a compliant employee into the frame as a patsy, but ultimately Yoovidhya was forced to confess.
He was subsequently charged with five criminal counts, including speeding, hit and run, and reckless driving causing death but was swiftly released on a derisory bail. Cocaine in his blood stream was explained away by testimony from a dentist who said the drug had shown up because it had been administered as part of a dental procedure (drug driving may form part of the new charges against him, it is being reported).
“Boss” spent several years ignoring summonses, apparently without meaningful attempts at enforcement.
Examples of rich and well-connected kids getting away with murder are all too frequent in Thailand. The son of a leading politician, for example, was accused of shooting a policeman in the head in a crowded nightclub. He fled overseas for a year and then returned to the country where he was acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence and conflicting witness accounts. He is now a senior policeman.
“It’s the way things tend to work in Thailand,” said Marshall. “But because Red Bull is a global brand, this has made this story a real headache for the Thai authorities.”
But “Boss,” he says, is likely to be eager to “create this new scenario where it was all a mistake,” and be able to return to Thailand safely.
“It’s quite possible ‘Boss’ would want a political career in Thailand.”
Well, of course.
Red Bull did not respond to The Daily Beast's requests for comment but have previously distanced themselves from Yoovidhya, saying he had no corporate role in the company.