She said the prime minister is following the issue closely and he has instructed authorities to gather facts about the prosecution’s criminal investigation of the case.
Gen Prayut also called on critics and media outlets not to seize on the controversy and distort facts or cause misunderstanding while insisting he has never intervened in the justice administration process and the prosecution works under no political pressure, according to Ms Narumon.
The prosecution’s decision to drop the charge has stirred outrage among the public who see it as another example of a culture of impunity enjoyed by the rich, and demanded the Office of Attorney-General (OAG) clarify the reason behind the decision. Netizens were quick to point out that in April the Yoovidhya family donated B300 million for the government to handle COVID-19, reported the Bangkok Post.
A lawyer who claimed he saw the document detailing the prosecutors’ reasons said the decision was a result of the testimony of two witnesses who said the killed policeman abruptly changed lanes on his motorcycle causing the fatal hit-and-run incident in 2012.
The document was seen yesterday by several media outlets and circulated on social media with eyebrows raised over the validity of the “new evidence” that prompted the prosecutors to reverse the decision.
Mr Vorayuth was accused of being behind the wheel when his Ferrari hit and killed Pol Sgt Maj Wichian Klanprasert, a motorcycle policeman, on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, on Sept 3, 2012.
The charges of speeding and failing to stop and help a crash victim were dropped earlier as a result of the expiry of the statute of limitations. It emerged last week that the prosecution in June had dropped the final, most serious charge of reckless driving causing death.
According to the document, the new information showed the crash took place when the victim’s motorcycle abruptly changed lane and cut in front of Mr Vorayuth who was driving under the legal speed limit in the far right lane. Previously, forensic police had concluded that Mr Vorayuth had been driving at 177km/h.
Netizens also drew comparisons between this case and last year’s drunk-driving case against Somchai Werotepipat who was initially charged with murder and attempted murder when his car crashed and killed a police officer and his wife.
The Taling Chan court rejected both charges and accepted three others: drink driving causing death, reckless driving causing serious injury and drink driving causing property damage.
It was reported the prosecution appealed the court’s decision to suspend the prison term, although he had earlier paid B45 million compensation to the victims’ family and agreed to give monthly expenses as well as offered to sponsor the family’s daughters’ education.
The OAG, which is under growing pressure to break its silence on the Vorayuth case, yesterday (July 26) issued a press release announcing that Attorney-General Wongsakul Kittipromwong has appointed a seven-member working team headed by deputy AG Somsak Tiyawanich to look into the handling of the case by the Department of Southern Bangkok Criminal Litigation.
The growing rage led to the hashtag #saynotoredbull trending on social media, prompting the maker of energy drink giant Red Bull to distance itself from the case, saying the case “is a personal affair of Mr Vorayuth Yoovidhya”.
On Saturday, TCP Group released a statement over what it claimed was a “misunderstanding” over Mr Vorayuth’s relationship with the company.
Although the seven shareholders of the TCP Group are members of the Yoovidhya family, Mr Vorayuth “has never assumed any role in the management and daily operations of TCP Group, was never a shareholder, nor has he held any executive position within TCP Group,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Palang Pracharath Party MP for Bangkok Sira Jenjaka, in his capacity as chairman of a House committee on justice and human rights, yesterday scheduled a meeting on Wednesday when police officials and prosecutors will be invited in for questioning about the case.
“As far as I’m concerned, there has been only been attempts to seek justice for the suspect, while not a single person at the Royal Thai Police Office has ever tried to seek justice for the dead police officer or at the very least tried to protect the integrity of the police as a whole,” he said.
New witnesses key to charges being dropped
New specialist and motorist witnesses who made statements that Mr Vorayuth did not drive his Ferrari over the speed limit and that the policeman who was killed abruptly cut in front of his vehicle are the key factors which convinced prosecutors to drop charges against the Red Bull scion, the Bangkok Post revealed in a separate report.
In a leaked document outlining public prosecutors’ reasoning for their decision to drop the charge against Mr Vorayuth of reckless driving causing death, information from the new witnesses was given more weight than previous evidence, including forensic results.
The document said Nate Naksuk, chief justice of the Department of Appellate Litigation in his capacity as acting attorney-general, signed the order to drop the charge.
After the statute of limitations of three charges expired, the National Legislative Assembly’s committee on justice and police affairs petitioned the Office of Attorney-General (OAG) for a fair investigation over the last charge, prompting the attorney-general to step in.
Mr Nate reviewed the investigation results and came to the conclusion the new evidence presented enough grounds to revoke the previous indictment order.
Based on a statement given by a police major who initially examined the speed the suspect’s Ferrari was travelling at – an average of 177 kilometres per hour at the time of the hit-and-run – the margin for error was 17km/h.
The speed was beyond the legal limit of 80km/h and this led prosecutors to determine that Mr Voratyuth was driving recklessly and indicted him on the charge of reckless driving causing death of which the statute of limitation would last until 2027.
Two new specialist witnesses, police majors, inspected the damage to the Ferrari and the victim’s motorcycle, compared it to other accidents, and agreed the Ferrari could not have been travelling at 170km/h at the time of the crash and was not exceeding 80km/h.
Another specialist who is a university engineering lecturer was brought in to calculate the speed of both vehicles involved in the crash in 2017. He told investigators the Ferrari was likely travelling at 76.175km/h.
In December last year, two other witnesses were interviewed. They told investigators they were driving behind the suspect and the victim just before the accident happened.
The victim was travelling at no more than 20km/h [as shown in CCTV footage] while Mr Vorayuth was driving between 50-60km/h.
The statements from these two witnesses echoed those of the specialist witnesses, leading investigators to conclude the Ferrari was travelling at under 80km/h in the far-right lane.
Prior to the crash, the victim’s motorcycle, which was in the far-left lane, abruptly changed lanes. One of the witnesses who was driving a pickup truck at the middle lane had to brake and managed to swerve to the left to avoid hitting the motorcycle. According to his statement, the motorcycle then changed lanes and cut in front of the Ferrari in the far-right lane, causing the Ferrari to crash into the motorcycle.
Prosecutors said the crash was a “force majeure” and that “the victim’s reckless driving contributed to the crash”.
The prosecutors concluded the crash was not caused by reckless driving on the part of the suspect and the suspect did not commit an offence under Section 291 of the Criminal Code.
The decision reversed the prosecutors’ earlier decision to indict. The family of the victim reached a compensation agreement with the suspect.