Justice needs salvaging after fatal crash
There is an old Thai saying which goes along the lines of: "A dead elephant cannot be covered by lotus leaves."
But the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) seemed to believe its utterly shameful decision not to arraign Red Bull scion Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya on the last outstanding charge of reckless driving causing death would remain a secret known only between them and the police.
They were dead wrong. Although without an inquisitive CNN correspondent in Thailand and a loose-tongued officer at Thong Lor police station who unwittingly let the skeleton out of the closet, the Thai public would have been kept in the dark like fools.
Yes, we have been treated like fools, with utter contempt by public prosecutors from the top down. Because the final decision to drop the charge had the rubber stamp of one of the deputy attorneys-general acting on behalf of the attorney-general, Wongsakul Kittipromwong, who coincidentally was on a field trip upcountry when his deputy endorsed the decision.
Unsurprisingly, the attorney-general was not around when one of his deputies signed an order not to appeal the acquittal verdict of the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases on Panthongtae "Oak" Shinawatra, former prime minister Thaksin's only son, on a money laundering charge related to a 10 million baht fund transferred to his bank account by an executive of the Krisdamahanakorn group of companies.
All hell broke loose when CNN reported the explosive news. The public was angry and they are right to be so. Not because this was the first case where the law has been distorted by public prosecutors. But this time, the blatant abuse of the law by the prosecutors to help the alleged offender off the hook is simply too much for the people to swallow after seven years of dragging their feet on a simple road accident investigation, tossing the case back and forth between the police and prosecutors during which all other charges except one were dropped due to the expiry of their statutes of limitation.
The prosecutors in charge of the case based their decision to drop the last outstanding charge of reckless driving on new evidence from six witnesses, namely Jaruchart Maadthong, Pol Lt-Col Thanasit Daengjan, Pol Lt-Col Somyot Abniam, Pol Lt-Col Suraphol Detrattanavinai, Air Marshal Chakkrit Thanomkullaboot and Dr Saiprasit Kerdniyom.
Jaruchart, a key witness, testified a few days after the fatal hit-and-run accident, claiming he was driving a pickup truck behind Pol Acting Sub-Lt Wichian Klanprasert, the victim. He said he saw the policeman riding his motorbike in the left lane, cut in front of his car in the second lane, and the Ferrari driven by Mr Vorayuth in the third lane.
In his second appearance before the prosecutors on Dec 4 last year, he claimed he was driving at a speed of about 80 kph and assumed the Red Bull scion was driving at a speed of between 50-60 kph, not 177 kph as claimed by police forensic experts.
Air Marshal Chakkrit claimed he was travelling in Jaruchart's pickup to a temple to make merit. An air force officer who reportedly operates a limousine service at an airport in Bangkok, travelling in the dead of the night in a pickup truck on a merit-making trip? It sounds like a cheap fairy tale, not to be taken seriously.
The car speed issue led to the entry into this long-running saga of Dr Saiprasit, an automotive safety and assessment expert of King Mongkut Institute of Technology (Bangkok North campus). He gave his opinion on the speed Mr Vorayuth's car.
His calculation was the alleged offender was driving at a speed of about 76 kph which is below the 80 kph speed limit, not 177 kph as calculated by the police forensic experts.
In his second testimony given in 2016, Pol Lt-Col Thanasit reversed his earlier claim that Mr Vorayuth was driving at 177 kph, saying the actual speed was 79.23 in his new calculation.
Common sense will tell most of us to seek a third opinion. Yet the prosecutors chose to dump the old evidence and embrace the suspicious new evidence. Hence, the final decision to drop the charge on basis of force majeure and put all the blame on the dead police officer.
If they were confident that their judgement is right and credible, why didn't they go public instead of hiding it from us?
When the heat grew more intense, the OAG set up a probe team to look into the case.
But what can the team offer as the OAG is no longer trustworthy in the eyes of the public?
That explains why Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha set up an independent panel, headed by Vicha Mahakhun, a former graft buster.
But the plot of this long-running saga has only thickened with the sudden death in a suspicious motorcycle accident in Chiang Mai of Jaruchart.
Chiang Mai police claimed it was just an ordinary accident but the public suspect otherwise.
Jaruchart was likely to be summoned by Mr Vicha's panel for questioning because he was the key witness of the prosecutors and instrumental in their controversial decision to drop the charge.
The sheer mishandling of Mr Vorayuth's case by the police and, especially, the OAG has shattered the credibility -- if there ever was any -- of the justice system in this country.
It is about time that the OAG was restructured from the inside out, and for the state to rein in their unchecked power of discretion mandated by Section 255 of the constitution, which has made several prosecutors feel as if they were a law unto themselves and not answerable to anyone, even the prime minister.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.