Thai Red Bull heir snubs hit-and-run case... again

by Sally MAIRS

Bangkok (AFP) - The heir to the Red Bull billions on Thursday again snubbed Thai prosecutors over a five-year-old hit-and-run incident that killed a policeman, the latest delay to a case that has become a byword for impunity enjoyed by the country's rich.

Worayuth Yoovidhya, whose nickname is "Boss", was 27 when he allegedly smashed his Ferrari into a police officer in 2012 and sped away, dragging the body along a downtown Bangkok road for about 100 metres (yards).

A trail of debris from the accident led officers to the mansion of his super-rich clan, who own half of the Red Bull energy drink empire.

The local police station, which covers Bangkok's most exclusive district, initially accepted the family's claim that the housekeeper was driving the car.

But the story fell apart and Worayuth was eventually hit with a string of charges -- including causing death by reckless driving, which carries a maximum 10 year jail term.

He has repeatedly failed to show up for formal indictment and has never been re-arrested, allowing some of the charges to expire and delaying legal action.

Yet the allegations have not deterred him from appearing on Bangkok's high society party circuit or freely dip in and out of the country.

On Thursday a spokesman for Thailand's attorney-general said Worayuth's lawyer had requested to postpone the latest summons, claiming his client was on a business trip in Britain.

"We cannot indict him because the suspect is not present," said spokesman Prayut Bejiraguna, adding that the appointment was rescheduled for April 27.

- Rich kid crashes -

As with many high-profile cases involving Bangkok's elite, public anger over the lack of progress has bubbled up periodically, briefly piquing into pressure on police before again slipping off the radar.

This week the Thai media was awash with photos of the Red Bull princeling, including shots of Worayuth posing with a black Porsche bearing the vanity plate "B055 RBR" (Red Bull Racing).

"Being rich is still the best defence of all," read a recent op-ed in the Bangkok Post that skewered Thailand's justice system for being warped by cash and influence.

Interest in Worayuth's case was revived last year after the son of another wealthy businessman killed two students when he allegedly slammed his Mercedes Benz into their car.

The Mercedes driver was hospitalised after the accident and later charged.

Another infamous "rich kid" car crash in 2010 saw a teenage girl, from a family with royal connections, escape jail time despite killing nine people when she collided with a van while driving under the legal age.

"Society might criticise the attorney-general for using laws in different ways towards poor and rich people," Chuwit Kamolvisit, a former massage-parlour tycoon turned anti-graft crusader, told prosecutors at a press conference.

Worayuth's father is Thailand's fourth richest billionaire, according to Forbes.

"The speeding charge is not complicated, so why has it taken five years?" Chuwit added, referring to one of the charges whose statute of limitations has already passed.

The most serious offence -- reckless driving that resulted in death -- will not expire until 2027.

Worayuth's grandfather Chaleo Yoovidhya co-founded the Red Bull brand with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz in the 1980s.

Chaleo died in March 2012 aged 89, leaving his eleven surviving relatives with a collective wealth of $22 billion, according to Bloomberg.