The prosecutors’ decision not to press the final and most serious charge against Red Bull scion Vorayuth or “Boss” Yoovidhaya has sparked public outrage leading to calls for reforms.
Calls are mounting for urgent reform to improve the efficiency and fairness in due process, particularly involving the police force and the prosecution.
After four charges against Mr Vorayuth in the case were either dropped or expired, CNN reported that a letter was sent to Mr Vorayuth’s Bangkok address by Thong Lor police station. The letter was uploaded to The Reporters’ Facebook page.
According to the letter: “The Attorney-General has ordered the acquittal of Mr Vorayuth Yoovidhya on all charges” and “The national police commissioner did not object to the order. The case has ended”.
Pol Col Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Police, later told a press conference the Department of Southern Bangkok Criminal Litigation decided in late June not to press the remaining charge of “reckless driving causing death” against Mr Vorayuth, and police agreed with the prosecutors.
All local and international arrest warrants were also revoked following the decision.
The reasons behind the decision are still unknown to the public, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has not explained.
The police have also come under fire for not challenging the decision.
Because this case attracted a great deal of public attention since the incident occurred in 2012, the decision to drop the “charge of reckless driving causing death” charge against a suspect even before it reached court sparked public outrage over the impunity enjoyed by the rich in Thailand.
Some citizens pointed out that prisons are used to incarcerate the poor, while the rich who are implicated in serious crimes never see the inside of a jail cell.
Mr Vorayuth, now 35, was accused of driving his Ferrari when rear-ended a policeman’s motorcycle at high speed, dragging the policeman’s body along Sukhumvit Road before speeding away in the early morning of Sept 3, 2012.
The victim was Pol Sgt Maj Wichian Klanprasert, 47, who was based at Thong Lor station.
Mr Vorayuth postponed hearing the criminal charges seven times. It was not until April 27, 2017, that prosecutors finally charged him with “reckless driving causing death” and “failing to help a crash victim”.
Mr Vorayuth reportedly left on a private plane two days before he was due to face the charges.
His “speeding” and “reckless driving causing damage to assets” charges were later dropped when their one-year statute of limitation expired. The next charge — failing to stop and help a crash victim — expired on Sept 3, 2017. The charge of drink driving was also dropped.
The last and most serious charge, “reckless driving causing death”, would have remained valid until 2027, but has now been dropped.
As pressure mounts, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has set up an independent committee to examine the hit-and-run case while the OAG and the Royal Thai Police have also formed separate panels to look into the case.
AN OUTSIDER JOINING THE PROBE
Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn told the Bangkok Post that the outrage over the Vorayuth case had underscored the need for urgent police and justice reforms.
He said police reform is already two years behind schedule, noting the constitution stipulates that reform in various fields must be complete within one year of the promulgation of the charter on April 6, 2017.
Three committees were set up successively to pursue police reform, though little progress has been made so far, Mr Kamnoon said.
He added that a new bill on the Royal Thai Police (RTP) is finished, but the RTP still disagrees with several aspects of the bill.
“I don’t think the police cannot be convinced to fully agree with the bill, which would overhaul the structure of the organisation. Opinions [on police reform] were gathered from high-ranking officers, while rank-and-file officers had no chance or did not chare to speak out,” Mr Kamnoon said.
He said since the bill is already finished, the prime minister should be quick to table it to parliament for consideration.
Since the bill is part of a national reform under the constitution, it requires deliberation at a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Mr Kamnoon said.
Regarding the reform on the investigation process that precedes court trials, Mr Kamnoon said the acquittal of Mr Vorayuth had exposed a major flaw in the criminal investigation process.
The justice system has been fraught with this problem for several decades, and everyone involved in fixing it has yet found a proper replacement, he said.
Commenting on calls for an outsider to take part in the investigation process, Mr Kamnoon said that it is difficult to determine who that person should be.
“The criminal investigation process has its standards. In principle, those involved should be trusted. But the problem is that the police do not have the trust and are seen in a negative light. So are the prosecutors, this time,” Mr Kamnoon said.
“It is too early to say if the Boss case will be revived. Legally speaking, the case is now closed. It will be revived only when there is new evidence. But what is new evidence will still be subject to interpretation,” Mr Kamnoon noted.
JUSTICE FOR ALL UNDER THE LAW
Thammasat University vice-rector and law lecturer Prinya Thaewanarumitkul suggested the Justice Ministry supervise the police, the prosecution and the courts of justice to improve the justice system.
To deal with well-connected people implicated in serious crimes who later walk free, Mr Prinya said the law should be amended to allow court judges to step in and investigate a criminal case involving death if prosecutors or the police dismiss it without valid reasons.
Mr Prinya also agreed with calls for an outsider to join the criminal investigation process, with members of the civil sector helping create justice and ensure transparency in the system.
He also said there is a need for change in the mindset of those working in the justice system.
“Don’t waste time on structural changes […]. What needs to be done most is a change of mindset. From now on, everyone must achieve the goal of creating justice and equality for all under the law,” Mr Prinya said.
He also criticised the government’s police reform efforts, saying it exists only on paper rather than being put into practice.
“Since the National Council for Peace and Order was established, how many reforms have been achieved?” Mr Prinya said.
brainstormer: Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law yesterday organised a round-table discussion titled ‘The Red Bull scion’s hit-and-run case: Social Sentiment, Law Experts’ Perspectives and Questions that State Law Enforcement Has to Answer’. Sitting far left is Atthaphol Yaisawang, former attorney-general, then Asst Prof Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, Thammasat University’s Vice Rector, Asst Prof Ronnakorn Bunmee deputy dean of Faculty of Law at Thammasat University, and Prof Surasak Likasitwatanakul of the Faculty of Law at Thammasat University.
JUDGES SHOULD STEP IN
Jade Donavanik, a legal expert and former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, echoed the view that the criminal investigation process should be reformed while the public should be allowed to participate in the prosecution procedure.
He suggested a checks-and-balances system be set up between the police and prosecutors.
Mr Jade also said the public should be allowed access to police investigation reports when they are ready to be forwarded to prosecutors.
He also agreed the courts of justice should be allowed to investigate if there are problems with cases handled by the police and prosecutors.
Commenting on the independent committee set up by the prime minister to examine the Vorayuth case, Mr Jade said this was the result of pressure from the public, rather than a real attempt to solve the problem.
Mr Jade also voiced concern that according to the PM’s order, while the panel will be able to seek information from various officials, it cannot intervene in the authority of officials responsible for Mr Vorayuth’s hit-and-run case.
“This will remain a problem. If the panel finds any wrongdoing on the part of those officials, what can they do next?
“When the panel cannot intervene, their findings will only end up as another study report,” Mr Jade said.
Atchariya Ruangrattanaphong, chairman of the Help Crime Victims Club, backed calls for reform to the police and the prosecution.
He said that in the police investigation system, evidence and investigation reports could be tampered with by their superiors.
“Evidence can be fabricated by investigators,” he alleged.
He added that currently, officers who studied and graduated from the field of the criminal investigation are in short supply, leading to officers who lack the experience to do the investigation work.
Mr Atchariya said that there would be no use in bringing in an outsider to take part in the investigation of the hit-and-run case because it is unlikely that the police and the prosecution will allow an outsider to join.
“They will claim that the investigation report contains classified information, which is off-limits to an outsider,” Mr Atchariya said.
“The government also has no intention to reform the police because the reform committee comprises police offices.
“Other committee members have no knowledge of the police,” he said.