Boss saga a critical test for justice system

Boss saga a critical test for justice system

A House panel summons a senior police officer and the attorney-general to testify over a decision to drop charges against Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya at parliament on Wednesday. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
A House panel summons a senior police officer and the attorney-general to testify over a decision to drop charges against Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya at parliament on Wednesday. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The more the media digs into the fatal hit-and-run involving Red Bull scion Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, the more we see ugly twists and turns, especially as some state authorities are trying to get the wealthy man off the hook.

The prosecutors' decision not to arraign Mr Vorayuth on a charge of reckless driving causing death was based on accounts of two "eyewitnesses" who suspiciously turned up seven days after the accident and claimed the Red Bull scion was not driving fast that fateful morning. Moreover, the car's speed in the original file was reduced from 177kph to around 77kph. Another contentious issue has been the use of cocaine by Mr Vorayuth. Police officers claim that the illicit substance found in his blood was the result of dental treatment. Such a claim has drawn a fierce response from dentists, saying they have ceased using it for over a century.

The twists, which has now seen the dead police officer become the sole culprit, have fuelled public uproar as faith in the justice system has taken a nosedive. "Prisons are for the poor" has become a catchphrase.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has intervened in the matter by setting up a panel under Vicha Mahakhun, a former commissioner of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). He has given the panel 30 days to wrap up the case and to clear all the dubious aspects. The parliament also has its own panel.

Now, it's up to the Vicha panel to expose those involved in the attempted whitewashing of this rich man. Those in the wrong must be held accountable for their actions.

There are about 10 people -- in high positions and as operations officers -- involved in this twist. It is apparent that they have tried to add suspense to such a simple case by citing new witnesses to present an account that only gives a chance for Mr Vorayuth to walk free.

One of the "witnesses", named Jaruchart Maadthong, turned up out of nowhere in 2019 -- seven years after the crash -- and gave testimony in favour of the scion. Jaruchart died in a motorcycle crash on Thursday night.

What's even more strange is the role of a panel under the military-installed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in the case. According to the OAG's documents, Mr Vorayuth attempted to have the OAG reopen the case. The rich man repeatedly asked the now-defunct NLA panel on legal, justice and police affairs in 2014 to convince the OAG -- which by then had already declared the case closed -- to reconsider it. The OAG eventually made a U-turn, citing new witnesses. It then sent the file back to police who did not make an objection. The decision to drop the charge was made on June 12.

We should look at the NLA panel's composition. Among them was Admiral Sitthawat Wongsuwon, brother of Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon. Also, another member was Gen Prawit's other brother, Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon, the former police chief. Other big names in the same panel include Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, the current police chief, Deputy Attorney General, and three former deputy police chiefs, and a metropolitan police chief.

The question is: Why did the NLA which is the law-making mechanism step in and help bail the rich man out? The OAG, an independent body, and the NLA should not have any role in such a simple accident case in the first place. It would be different if the agency came forward and helped the poor who are seeking protection from the influential people and not vice versa. The whole saga shows the privilege that a family with such an extensive network in all key agencies can have and how it can be protected from legal troubles.

As the story hit the headlines, Adm Sitthawat, who was chairman of the panel, admitted that it was Mr Vorayuth's lawyer who sought help from the panel. This was a turning point, leading to successful whitewash.

The Vicha committee should summon members of the NLA panel and find out who is behind this shameful twist. It appears that not all members consented to this.

Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn, former metropolitan police chief, who was a panel member and became frustrated insisted that he did not agree with the panel having any role in the hit-and-run saga.

"It's clear that the matter was over. In my position as a metropolitan police chief, I cannot accept this. I told the panel not to pay attention to the 'expert' on speed who might not be real," he recalled.

The retired officer also warned the panel of damages, and on top of that he insisted it's not the NLA panel's duty to intervene.

"Did the NLA or Senate have the power to order police or the OAG? Whoever did it breached the charter and the panel came to the conclusion that it would stay away from the matter."

However, Thani On-laiad, who was a member of the panel, gave a different account. He told the media the panel pursued the case as requested by Mr Vorayuth's lawyer. It summoned eight authorities, including the former deputy attorney-general, police who inspected the Ferrari, and witnesses, before concluding that Mr Vorayuth was clean.

Until now, it is unclear if the panel took any action as some members were not aware of the case. Was an intervention in OAG -- which was an independent body -- unconstitutional? The scandal reflects the dark side of the country under the regime, as nepotism reigns again. The checks-and-balance mechanism was crippled while officials sided with the rich, leaving the poor frustrated yet again.

If the Vicha committee can find irregularities, especially in changes made to speeding with use of fake witnesses, it should take action against those involved.

But if it cannot or can only catch petty officers while letting big fish slip, people's lack of faith in the justice system could explode into a crisis.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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