Thai prosecutors suggest drug charge against Red Bull scion
BANGKOK (AP) — Facing renewed public outrage, prosecutors in Thailand said Tuesday that police should file drug charges against a scion of the Red Bull energy drink fortune in connection with the 2012 hit-and-run death of a police officer.
An Office of the Attorney General committee also suggested that the charge of causing death by reckless driving against Vorayuth Yoovidhya might be restored after a re-examination of the evidence. Prosecutors dropped that charge late last month, igniting a fresh uproar over a a case that critics say highlights the impunity wealthy Thais enjoy.
The committee is one of several that were set up to investigate how and why charges had been dropped against Vorayuth, whose family is listed by Forbes magazine as the second richest in Thailand, with an estimated wealth of $20.2 billion.
“The committee can assure you that the case hasn’t ended,” a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, Prayuth Bejraguna, said at a news conference.
Vorayuth had been accused of roaring down a Bangkok street in his Ferrari at speeds of up to 177 kilometers (110 miles) per hour when he struck a police officer patrolling on a motorcycle. The officer and his mangled motorcycle were dragged for several dozen meters (yards) before his body fell to the road.
Police followed a trail of fluid to the Yoovidhya family’s nearby property. The car, which they found there, had a shattered windshield and its bumper was dangling. At first, a chauffeur was blamed for the accident, but Vorayuth later admitted to being the driver. He turned himself in and was released on bail the same day.
His lawyers managed to repeatedly put off any court appearances until April 2017, when a warrant was issued for his arrest a few days after he had left the country. His Thai passports were later revoked.
Despite the legal threats hanging over him, Vorayuth managed after the accident to lead a busy globetrotting life, flying in private Red Bull jets to attend Formula One races, go snowboarding in Japan and cruising in Venice, among other activities. His continuing jet-set lifestyle provoked widespread public anger when it was revealed by an Associated Press investigation.
That anger was reignited lat month with the sudden news that the most serious remaining charge against Vorayuth was being dropped. Several lesser charges had already expired.
No specific reasons were given for why the charge was dropped, but an official memo leaked to Thai media cited two new witnesses saying they had seen Vorayuth’s car traveling safely within the speed limit and that the police officer had recklessly cut in front of him.
Officials at Tuesday's news conference said they would ask for a re-investigation of whether Vorayuth was speeding.
“I can assure you that the Office of the Attorney General is seeking the truth and is neither abandoning this case nor considering it closed," said Chanchai Chalanonniwat, a member of the attorney general's committee.
The committee acknowledged that a fresh investigation might also exonerate Vorayuth.
Last week's death in a motorcycle accident of one of the new witnesses in the case added a fresh turn to the case. Although there appeared to be no suspicious circumstances involved, it now has itself become the object of a special investigation, with the victim’s body ordered seized for examination.
In addition to the new investigation, the attorney general's committee suggested that a charge of using Class 2 drugs be lodged against Vorayuth. The offense is punishable by up to three years imprisonment and a fine.
News emerged last week that when Vorayuth was tested after the accident, traces of chemicals were found in his system indicating cocaine, but that police did not pursue charges after being told it came from an anesthetic used in dental work. Dental experts responded that drugs used for dental work contain chemical compounds distinct from those found in cocaine.