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Thailand

Why do the rich and powerful get away with murder?

In Thailand, the laws apply only to those who don't have enough money or influence to be able to flout them at will

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Updated: July 27, 2020 03:17 AM GMT
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Why do the rich and powerful get away with murder?

The aftermath of the 2012 accident in which a policeman died. (Photo: The Thaiger)

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One night in September 2012, Vorayuth Yoovidhya, a young Thai man on his way home, crashed his Ferrari at a speed of 177kph into a policeman on a motorcycle in Bangkok, killing him instantly.

Vorayuth, who is believed to have been either high or intoxicated, dragged the policeman under his car for dozens of meters before fleeing into his family’s gated residence. Then in 2017, when an arrest warrant was finally issued for him, he fled Thailand rather than face the music in court.

In anyone’s book, what he has done is a serious crime — or rather a series of crimes: manslaughter, hit-and-run, fleeing from justice, to name a few.

In Thailand, though, the justice system has now taken the view that it is no big deal. In a shocking decision, the Royal Thai Police announced last week that they had dropped the last charge — reckless driving causing death — against Vorayuth on the recommendation of the Office of the Attorney-General.

Several other charges had by then already expired because of the statute of limitations against Vorayuth, who has been a fugitive abroad with an international warrant issued for his arrest. He is now free to return to Thailand and can rest assured that no further attention from Thai law enforcement will be forthcoming, a police spokesman said last week.

Then again, it does not appear that Vorayuth was ever really concerned about being arrested as he lived a jet-setting lifestyle around the planet from the United Kingdom to Japan. He did so in full view of Thai authorities if they cared to take a look at his whereabouts — which they clearly didn’t. 

It can’t have been a coincidence that Vorayuth is a scion of one of Thailand’s richest families and is an heir to a multibillion-dollar fortune from the sales of the Red Bull energy drink.

And so it goes in a country where the rich and powerful can get away with murder — literally so, as this case indicates.

On July 24, a police spokesman insisted in defense of the prosecution’s decision to drop all charges against Vorayuth that there were no double standards involved in letting him off the hook. “We’re not applying double standards,” police colonel Kissana Phathana-charoen stressed.

We have to take him at his word. In order for there to be double standards, there need to be some real standards in the first place. But what exactly are the standards of Thailand’s law enforcement and judicial system?

This is a country, after all, where a citizen can be sentenced to long years in prison merely for exercising freedom of speech by making critical comments about the government or the monarchy on social media on grounds that doing so undermines national security.

Meanwhile, the generals that spearheaded a military coup to overthrow an elected government in 2014 not only do not need to fear any prosecution for what was an act of treason by international standards but they remain in charge of the country, acting as they please.

Apologists of this sad state of affairs like to shrug it off as a time-honored feature of Thai society. “That’s just how it is, old boy. It’s always been like this,” they insist.

But that is exactly what the problem is. The system of justice in Thailand has long stayed mired in a regressive state where the laws apply only to those who don’t have enough money or influence to be able to flout them at will.

The result is a vastly unequal society where the “little people” remain under the thumb of the rich and powerful who can do as they please with no one to hold them to account. That is hardly a recipe for social harmony and social justice.

To be sure, the situation is no better in most countries around Southeast Asia. Yet Thailand isn’t just any country in the region. It’s one of the most economically, politically and culturally powerful nations that often sets standards for its poorer neighbors, especially Laos and Cambodia.

By perpetuating a culture of impunity for a chosen few, Thailand makes it seem acceptable to apply laws selectively in the interest of those with money and power. Why should the self-appointed elites in Laos and Cambodia concern themselves with the rule of law if their dominant neighbor could not care less about it, either?

Equality before the law is a cultural and political feature of a society that needs to be constantly bolstered and protected. The case of Vorayuth Yoovidhya shows that in Thailand the very concept remains alien to those who are supposed to uphold the country’s laws.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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