The aftermath of the 2012 accident in which a policeman died. (Photo: The Thaiger)
A newly leaked transcript appears to have provided firm evidence that several senior Thai police officers and prosecutors conspired to get a billionaire off the hook for killing a policeman in 2012 in what observers have decried as a grievous miscarriage of justice.
The latest twist is seen as especially damning to police in a long-running and high-profile case that has highlighted the double standards of Thailand’s justice system and helped galvanize popular opposition to the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014.
The transcript, leaked to a Thai news site this week, allegedly details a phone call between several senior police officers and a public prosecutor as they were discussing how to manipulate a key piece of evidence against Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, an heir to the multibillion-dollar Red Bull fortune.
Vorayuth allegedly crashed his Ferrari into a police officer on a motorcycle on the night of Sept. 3, 2012, killing him instantly before speeding off in a hit-and-run accident. Subsequent investigation found that Vorayuth had been intoxicated and driven well over the speed limit at an estimated 177kph.
Rather than face charges, the billionaire, who was 27 in 2012, fled Thailand and remains a fugitive from justice. He has been leading a jet-setting lifestyle in Europe and elsewhere despite having had an international warrant out for his arrest.
In the leaked transcript, an unidentified prosecutor tells the police officers to lower the estimated speed of Vorayuth’s car on the night of the accident, presumably so that the charge of speeding could be dropped against the billionaire.
“I want [the speed] to be at 79.22 [kilometers per hour] because by law the speed cannot exceed 80kph, so I ask it to be within that range,” the prosecutor says. “I kindly ask the commander since the prosecutor office wants to help.”
In response, two of the senior police officers begin to debate whether to comply, with one of them in agreement while another suggests keeping the originally estimated speed range.
“May I suggest keeping 177 as the maximum speed, so we can calculate the new minimum speed? We can’t really say that 177 is entirely wrong,” the second officer says.
Several state-appointed experts said that based on evidence gathered at the scene Vorayuth must have been driving at a speed ranging from 125kph to 177kph.
Yet, despite all the evidence against Vorayuth, the Office of the Attorney General dropped all charges against the billionaire in July in a decision has caused widespread outrage in Thailand.
At the same time, it has transpired that the Yoovidhya family has donated 300 million baht (US$9.5 million) to the police. The revelation has further damaged the integrity of Thailand’s justice system in the eyes of many locals.
“Justice in Thailand is rotten to the core,” a Bangkok-based analyst from the United States told a UCA News reporter on condition of anonymity. “You can go to prison for years over a comment on Facebook if you’re an average Joe but get away with murder if you have money and connections.”
Anti-government demonstrators, who have been holding rallies almost daily for months, have been citing the case of Vorayuth as clear evidence of rampant corruption within Thailand’s justice system, saying that the authorities and senior law enforcement officials help perpetuate widespread injustice in the country.
In response to the continuing uproar, officials promised to look into the case again.
A panel appointed in July by Prime Minister Prayut has just announced that it has found clear evidence of a conspiracy among numerous officials in the judiciary and the police to shield Vorayuth from prosecution.
“We found that there was an organized effort to create a dishonest case,” Vicha Mahakhun, a former Supreme Court judge who chaired the committee, told a news conference on Sept. 8. “You can describe the coordinated effort as a conspiracy to damage the case from the start.”
These officials abused their authority and used their influence in order to derail the investigation, the panel found, adding that there was a need for systematic reform.
The blatant miscarriage of justice in the case “represents a serious threat to the country’s judicial system by undermining trust and confidence in the procedures of justice,” the Bangkok Post newspaper noted in an editorial on Sept. 8.
Yet the newspaper has also raised further concerns about whether justice will ever be done.
“How can the public trust the results of other investigations against those implicated in the conspiracy, who include police officers, prosecutors, politicians, retired officials and civilian experts? As of now, it remains unclear who will be investigating these individuals,” it said.