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Update: OAG Creates Panel to Probe Own Decision to Drop Charges Against Red Bull Heir

Legal scholars blast decision while Thai parent of energy drink maker distances itself from 'Boss'

Vorayuth Red Bull Heir

The Office of the the Attorney General on Sunday created a seven-member commission to investigate its own decision to drop criminal charges against Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya even as the energy drink’s maker tried to distance itself from “Boss”.

A press release issued by the department said that the attorney general did not even know of the June decision to withdraw the charge of reckless driving resulting in death until it leaked to the media this week. The decision had been made by the OAG’s Office of Special Prosecutors for Criminal Litigation.

The release said results of the investigation will be released to the public once completed.

The decision to drop charges against the Vorayuth has drawn universal condemnation, including – supposedly – from Constitutional Court Judge Thaveekiart Meenakanit who was said to call it “unprecedented and incomprehensible” action that would neuter Thailand’s justice system.

However, the court late on Sunday denied the high court justice had authored the post to a Line group of jurists, saying, in fact, the article was written by law professor Suraphol Nitikraipote, adding his name to the list of legal scholars condemning the move.

The post said dropping the charges against Vorayuth has left the public believing that he was spared due to his economic and social status, the judge said. The Yoovidhya family is Thailand’s second-richest, with a net worth exceeding US$20 billion.

Suraphol said police and prosecutors should have litigated the case and, by not doing so, they’ve further eroded public trust in both institutions.

Police Defend Decision to Drop Charges against Red Bull Heir

Police tried to defend their role in the fiasco, saying they had no choice but to withdraw the arrest warrant against Vorayuth after the OAG refused to proceed.

But Thammasat University Vice Rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a renowned legal scholar, blasted the way police handled the case from the outset, saying that, and the OAG’s baffling decision to drop charges, confirms the public’s belief that “prison is meant for the poor and the rich will always escape”.

More than a half-dozen Thonglor police have been suspended, reprimanded, placed on probation or had other minor disciplinary action imposed for dragging their feet on the investigation over eight years, trying to frame someone else for the crime and allowing Vorayuth to flee the country on his private jet on April 25, 2017. But no officer or prosecutor has ever been fired or lost their job over the morass.

Red Bull Parent Seeks Distance

Red Bull’s parent company in Thailand on Sunday released a short statement attempting to distance itself from Vorayuth, nothing he “has never assumed any role in the management and daily operations of TCP Group, was never a shareholder, nor has he held any executive position within TCP Group”.

TCP said it was fully aware of the public outrage over the case, with the company facing a vocal boycott campaign and the hashtags #BossRedBull and #BoycottRedbull trending on Twitter in both English and Thai over the weekend.

Reuters news agency reporter Jurawee Kittislipa tweeted on Sunday that, while the OAG has not released a formal explanation of its decision, “a spokesman has told local media they are investigating the decision”.

More disturbingly, she also tweeted that leaked documents have “surfaced” stating that the Sept. 3, 2012 accident that killed Pol. Sgt. Major Wichien Klanprasert was the Thonglor officer’s fault.

The documents, Jurawee tweeted that detailed accounts from two never-heard-from-before witnesses who claimed Vorayuth was driving at only 50-60 kilometers per hour, not the 177 kph that forensics experts estimated, and that Wichien changed lanes and cut Vorayuth off, as he originally claimed eight years ago.

(Note that Jurawee later corrected the “mph” to “kph in a later tweet.)

Given authorities’ track record on the case – especially as police were found guilty of trying to frame someone else for the crime, mysterious witnesses backing Vorayuth now have no credibility.

That lack of credibility is exactly what Suraphol warned of in his Line post.

“The majority of the people now see that the law is no longer sacred or to be respected,” Suraphol wrote, adding that Prayut’s reported acceptance of a 300-million-baht donation from the Red Bull empire to fight the coronavirus pandemic a few months ago make it look like Vorayuth’s exoneration was a quid quo pro.

It wouldn’t be the first. The government also accepted a donation of hundreds of millions of baht from Singha beer-maker Boon Rawd Breweries and, two days later, the government suddenly reversed its extension of the alcohol-sales ban in place at the time.

He urged Prayut to explain to the public if the donation played a role in the decision to drop charges against Vorayuth and establish an independent commission to investigate the actions of police and prosecutors.

“It is the only way to restore public confidence in the country’s justice system and restore law and order,” Suraphol wrote.

This story has been edited to reflect the Constitutional Court’s insistence that the Line post supposedly written by Judge Thaveekiart Meenakanit was “misunderstood” and that the article, in fact was authored by law processor Suraphol Nitikraipote. It also adds the update on the creation of the investigative panel.