Being rich is still the best defence of all

Being rich is still the best defence of all

As I was preparing to leave home yesterday morning to meet a group of poor and landless people at a forum and hear their stories of injustice, the Associated Press was reporting a story on the Red Bull heir, who hit a policeman with his car. The headline was "'Red Bull killer' found living the good life".

Was I surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes. Worried? Very much.

The news failed to surprise me because it is just another example of how impunity is afforded to the rich who are allowed to live the "good life" despite falling foul of the law.

Remember Janepob Veeraporn, a car dealer who this time last year smashed his black Mercedes-Benz through a tollway gate, tore along a highway and rammed into the back of a Ford Fiesta, killing two young graduates?

Surasak Glahan is deputy oped pages editor, Bangkok Post.

How about the teen girl, Orachorn "Praewa" Thephasadin na Ayudhya, who crashed into a van on the tollway killing nine people; she was given a suspended two-year jail term and ordered to do community service?

To many of us, it's normal to see the Red Bull heir, Vorayudh Yoovidhya, continue life as usual.

Mr Vorayudh, an heir of business tycoon Chalerm Yoovidhya, ranked by Forbes as Thailand's fourth richest person in 2015, is living a healthy, happy life both at home and abroad despite failing to show up to police and public prosecutor hearings over charges of speeding, reckless driving and other offences.

Being busy and being sick were the reasons his lawyer rattled off to authorities to account for Mr Vorayudh's absence.

This story makes me sad because it serves as a reminder of all the fresh cases of injustice involving poor and ordinary people.

Imagine if you were a street vendor and crashed into someone on your motorcycle, killing them; and then told police you were sick and would like to postpone a hearing on your criminal charges.

Not a chance. You would be locked up from day one.

For the rich, excuses of "being busy or having the flu" are only too readily accepted by police and public prosecutors. Mr Vorayudh faces charges of speeding, hit-and-run and reckless driving, but police let the speeding charge expire in 2013. The reckless driving charge is due to expire this September.

For the poor, being arrested for theft or assault will surely be met with lengthy jail terms. Most of the time these people can't even afford bail or a lawyer. Worse still, they can be wrongfully jailed for crimes they did not commit, thanks to a flawed system.

Yesterday, after reading the news about the Red Bull heir, I was listening to a group of landless people and ethnic minorities at a forum at Chulalongkorn University about "land officials' unlawful issuance of land title deeds for rich people" to give them ownership over land that poor farmers had lived on and made a living from for generations.

An ethnic man from the North said injustices against minorities like him and his fellows are normal. The extra-judicial killing of Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae, who has been accused by the military of being an illicit drug dealer, is nothing new in his neighbourhood. Such incidents have happened many times before in the highlands, he said, insisting Chaiyapoom had been well known as a man who discouraged drug use among young people.

It is not new for us to hear that a different version of the justice system is served out to the poor, the outcasts and ordinary people.

For example, while it took less than two years for police to wrap up a complicated and doubtful murder case on Koh Tao, which resulted in death sentences for two migrant workers from Myanmar, police and prosecutors, amid an intense media spotlight and public scepticism, have failed to press charges against the Red Bull heir after four years.

It's disappointing that the AP story gives the impression to the wealthy and privileged classes that impunity is still the name of the game when it comes to the law.

Every time we take our cars on the roads, we shouldn't have to pray for our safety. We should pray for a justice system that treats everyone equally and holds everyone accountable.

Surasak Glahan

Deputy Op-ed Editor

Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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