BANGKOK (AFP) – Thai police said they are investigating the death Thursday (July 30) of a defence witness to a fatal hit-and-run case involving the heir to the Red Bull billions, days after it emerged his testimony helped clear the scion of wrongdoing.
Mr Charuchart Martthong was killed early Thursday in a motorbike accident in the northern city of Chiang Mai.
Earlier this week, Mr Charuchart was named as a key witness who told investigators that Red Bull heir Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya was not speeding when his Ferrari struck and killed a policeman in Bangkok in 2012.
His account, apparently delivered several years after the incident, led police and prosecutors to drop all charges against Mr Vorayuth, sparking public outrage at the perceived culture of impunity enjoyed by Thailand’s rich and powerful.
The outcry prodded embattled Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha to set up an investigation into why the high-profile case was dropped years before the statute of limitations on several charges – including reckless driving – expired.
The probe Mr Prayut ordered – as well as two others the police and attorney general said they would conduct after last week’s furore erupted – would likely have seen Mr Charuchart questioned again.
But police said on Thursday that he was killed in a motorbike accident, and they were investigating the cause.
“Police are gathering forensic evidence and witnesses,” deputy police spokesman Krisana Pattanacharoen said in a statement.
He said another person involved in the collision was recovering in hospital, and added that the police had not ruled out anything.
When the authorities said last week that all charges had been dropped against Mr Vorayuth – who has been living expansively abroad for years – it cleared the way for him to return, prompting outrage among social media-savvy Thais.
The hashtag #BossYoovidhya started trending, and gained new life on Thursday on news of Mr Charuchart’s death, putting fresh focus on a case that has gripped the country for years.
The public scrutiny has also apparently split the Red Bull family – one of Thailand’s richest – prompting one faction into releasing a rare public statement distancing the businesses from Mr Vorayuth.
Eight members of the sprawling Yoovidhya clan – mostly aunts and uncles – broke ranks to decry the “unbearable effect” the case had on the family name.
“All family members… reaffirm that we respect the law and adhere to judicial processes which give equal justice,” they said in an open letter.
The letter demanded that Mr Vorayuth “wholeheartedly explains” his role in the incident “to the rest of Yoovidhya family as well as to society and the media as soon as possible”.
The issue is a fresh conduit for anger at Thailand’s super-rich as the coronavirus epidemic flattens the Thai economy and threatens millions of jobs.
It is also stoking anger at the military-backed government of Mr Prayut, which enjoys close alliances with Thailand’s billionaire clans.