Thai Red Bull heir absent from hit-and-run hearing

NY Times News Service, BANGKOK

Wed, Sep 04, 2013 - Page 6

The Bangkok policeman was fatally struck by a gray Ferrari, his body dragged down a darkened Bangkok street. In contrast to his sudden and brutal death 12 months ago, the Thai judicial process that has followed has been slow and labored.

After repeated postponements, Thai prosecutors said on Monday that the man who has admitted to the hit-and-run, Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the grandson of the inventor of the Red Bull energy drink and the heir to one of Thailand’s greatest fortunes, failed to show up at an indictment hearing.

Prosecutors said they had dropped charges of speeding against him because the one-year statute of limitations ran out yesterday.

Vorayuth still faces two other charges, and prosecutors said they would issue a warrant for his arrest. However, in a case that has been described as a test of whether the rich and influential in Thailand enjoy more leniency than others, critics say the system is so far coming up short.

Monday was the sixth time that Vorayuth failed to answer summonses at prosecutors’ offices.

Vorayuth’s lawyer, Thanit Buakaew, told reporters on Monday that his client could not appear at the office that day because he was in Singapore on a business trip and was sick with the flu.

“Due to Mr Vorayuth’s sudden illness he will not be able to travel back from Singapore to report to the prosecutor today,” Thanit said outside the office.

His client “has not set” a return date to Thailand and has “no intention to escape,” Thanit said.

Ruecha Krairiksh, the prosecutor handling the case, said on Monday that officials had tried repeatedly to reach Vorayuth and his lawyer, but that “no one answered the phone at the home number.”

If he returns to Thailand, Vorayuth, who is in his late 20s, faces the more serious charges of causing death through reckless driving and failing to stop and assist the victim.

Vorayuth left the scene after hitting the police officer, Wichean Glanprasert, so investigating officers followed traces of leaking engine fluids to the family’s luxury compound in Bangkok, where they discovered the damaged Ferrari.

However, instead of arresting Vorayuth, police officers from a station near the family’s compound arrested the family’s driver.

Vorayuth was later taken into police custody and admitted that he had hit the police officer with his Ferrari.

However, he said that the officer, who was riding a motorcycle, had swerved in front of him.