Red Bull heir enjoying life four years after hit-and-run

AP, BANGKOK

Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 6

A Ferrari driver who allegedly slammed into a motorcycle police officer, dragged him along the road and then sped away from the mangled body took just hours to find, as investigators followed a trail of brake fluid into the gated estate of one of Thailand’s richest families.

However, the prosecution of Red Bull heir Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya has been delayed almost five years.

When Yoovidhya, 31, has been called in to face authorities, he has not shown up, claiming through his attorney that he is sick or out of the country on business. And while statutes of limitations run out on key charges this year, it is widely assumed he is hiding, possibly abroad, or quietly living locally, only going out in disguise. He is not.

Within weeks of the accident, Yoovidhya was back to enjoying his family’s jet-set life, largely associated with the Red Bull brand, an energy drink company cofounded by his grandfather. He flies around the world on Red Bull jets, cheers their Formula One racing team from VIP seats and keeps a black Porsche Carrera in London with a custom plate: B055 RBR. Boss Red Bull Racing.

And he is not hard to find.

Last month, social media clues led reporters to Yoovidhya in the sacred city of Luang Prabang, Laos, where he and his family enjoyed a US$1,000-a-night resort, visited temples and lounged by the pool.

Critics say inaction in this case epitomizes longstanding privilege for the wealthy in Thailand, a politically tumultuous country that has struggled with rule of law for decades.

The Yoovidhya family attorney did not respond to a request to interview Vorayuth Yoovidhya.

Police say Yoovidhya is once again on notice to show up and hear the charges. He is due at the prosecutors’ office tomorrow.

Yoovidhya and his siblings grew up in a private, extended family whose fortune expanded from millions to billions of US dollars. His brother is nicknamed Porsche, his sister Champagne. Yoovidhya received a British education at a US$40,000-a-year boarding school.

In rural Thailand, police Sergeant Major Wichean Glanprasert did not have such opportunities, but he was ambitious. The youngest of five, he was the first to leave their coconut and palm farm for the city, the first to get a government job, to graduate from college.

He paid for his parents’ medical care and supported a sister through cancer. He had no children, but planned to put his brother’s kids through college.

Their lives collided pre-dawn on Sept. 3, 2012, when Yoovidhya’s Ferrari roared down Sukhumvit Road, one of Bangkok’s main streets.

The bloody accident scene made national headlines for days.

The police officer’s family grieved, but they figured at least there would be justice. Wichean was a police officer. Certainly the system would hold his killer responsible.

“At first I thought they’d follow a legal process,” his brother Pornanan said.

Now he is not so sure.

“We will not let this police officer die without justice. Believe me,” Bangkok Police Commissioner Comronwit Toopgrajank said in the days after the accident.

As the case unfolded, the Yoovidhya family attorney said Yoovidhya left the scene not to flee, but to tell his father.

Yoovidhya’s blood alcohol levels were high because he drank once he got home to settle his nerves, the attorney said.

Wichean’s family accepted a settlement, about US$100,000. In turn, they promised not to press criminal charges.

“Blood money,” said Pornanan, whose share sits in the bank.

Meanwhile, Yoovidhya failed to show up when ordered to face criminal charges of speeding, hit-and-run, and deadly, reckless driving.

Police say Yoovidhya disputes the reckless-driving charge, claiming the officer swerved in front of him. The speeding charge expired after one year. The more serious charge of hit-and-run, which police say carries a penalty of up to six months in jail, expires in September.

Complicating matters, Yoovidhya’s attorney has repeatedly filed petitions claiming unfair treatment in the investigation.

Police say it is up to prosecutors to charge him.

Prosecutors say extra investigation is needed, but would not specify.

Thammasat University law professor Pokpong Srisanit said the situation is “not normal,” but does appear legal.

Last year the Bangkok Post said that after paying the settlement in 2012, Yoovidhya “has been out of the country or otherwise unable to answer the criminal case against him in the years since.”

A few weeks after the article appeared, a photograph of Yoovidhya was posted online.

He was on the beach at a seaside resort south of Bangkok.