BANGKOK — People in Thailand often joke that prisons are reserved for the poor, because the rich and privileged tend to get away with murder.
Popular online forums were filled with commentary Tuesday about the justice system’s highest-profile test case in years, in which an heir to the Red Bull energy drink fortune allegedly slammed his Ferrari into a policeman and dragged the officer’s dead body along a Bangkok street before speeding away.
Police initially attempted to cover up the heir’s involvement by arresting a bogus suspect — underlining what many people describe as selective law enforcement and the power of political connections.
But Bangkok's police commissioner, Comronwit Toopgrajank, then took charge of the investigation of Monday’s accident. He suspended the district police superintendent for attempting to subvert the probe and vowed to deliver justice regardless of the defendant’s family name.
“We will not let this police officer die without justice. Believe me,” Commissioner Comronwit said Tuesday. “The truth will prevail in this case. I can guarantee it.”
Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the 27-year-old grandson of Red Bull creator Chaleo Yoovidhya, has admitted he was driving the Ferrari, but said the police officer’s motorcycle abruptly cut in front of his vehicle.
Witnesses said they saw the sports car dragging the police officer dozens of yards as it sped from the crime scene.
Police followed oil streaks for several blocks to the gate of Mr. Vorayuth’s family mansion. Photos of his charcoal gray Ferrari — with a crumpled front fender and a shattered windshield — were plastered on Thailand’s front pages Tuesday.
He faces charges of causing death by reckless driving, and was released on $15,900 bail.
His grandfather, Red Bull founder Chaleo Yoovidhya, died in March at the age of 88. The Yoovidhya family was ranked the fourth richest in Thailand this year by Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $5.4 billion.
One commentator on the popular Pantip Web forum echoed the skepticism of many: “If you’re rich, the verdict will take ages to be delivered, and will then come down as a suspended sentence. If you’re poor, the verdict comes faster than the speed of light: Go to jail immediately.”
That was the outcome last week for another child of privilege who killed nine people in a car crash in 2010 and was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Orachorn Devahastin Na Ayudhya was 16 and driving without a license when she crashed her sedan into a van on a Bangkok highway. A court initially sentenced her to a three-year prison term but reduced the sentence last week, saying she had provided “helpful” testimony.
In a country that values deference and patronage, even the police oblige, said social commentator Somkiat Onwimon.
“Police are afraid of influential people,” he said. “They treat the famous people differently and let them break the law.”
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
We all eat, and food should be fun and healthful. Food Commune celebrates the food we eat, the people we eat with and the spirits we enjoy.
First over-the-counter column approved for fast and effective relief from even your worst media-induced headache.
A collection of reader guest articles, thoughts and opinions by Communities writers and breaking news and information.
Reflections on raising families in a holistic way -- with a focus on nutrition and alternative health.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall