How Thailand’s Rich Escape Prosecution

AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn

As many Thai residents say, “Thai jails are only for the poor.” Exhibit A: the 27-year-old socialite named Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, part of the billionaire family who owns the Red Bull beverage empire. In 2012, he mortally wounded police officer Wichean Glanprasert while driving, then he fled the scene. Boss remains free. Glanprasert’s family mourn while wrestling with this accepted double standard. For The Walrus, Martha Mendoza follows the Red Bull family’s trail of shell companies, and Boss’ social media posts, to find how they not only protect their assets, but how Boss and other Thai elites evade prosecution while protestors and journalists routinely end up in prison for minor offenses.

Within weeks of the incident, Boss was back to enjoying his family’s jet-set lifestyle: he flew around the world on private Red Bull jets, cheered the company’s Formula One racing team from Red Bull’s VIP seats, and kept a shiny black Porsche Carrera in London with custom licence plates—B055 RBR, or Boss Red Bull racing.

An Interpol arrest notice was issued five years after the accident, but so far, it has effectively been useless. Boss is reported to have at least two passports and a complex network of offshore accounts, and with these tools, he’s able to travel the world with impunity. More than 120 photos posted on Facebook and Instagram, as well as some racing blogs, show Boss visiting at least nine countries since Glanprasert’s death. Stops include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Osaka, Japan, where he posed, grinning and wearing robes from Hogwarts’s darkest dorm, Slytherin house. He’s cruised Monaco’s harbour, snowboarded Japan’s fresh powder, and celebrated his birthday at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. This means that while authorities say they’ve had no idea where Boss was, his friends, family, and all of their followers seem to have had no doubt about his whereabouts and the good times he’s been having. One summer, in Japan, he posted a ten-second video of sausage and eggs decorated with seaweed eyes, tagging a young relative. His parents responded with a thumbs up.

In Thailand, many say that the justice system has two tracks: one for the elite and one for everybody else. This is seen not just through brazen killings, like that of Glanprasert, but also through financial schemes used by the country’s wealthy. During the time Boss hid in plain sight, an Associated Press (AP) investigation into his whereabouts simultaneously exposed how the Yoovidhya family has spent decades hiding its assets in offshore accounts. As Brooke Harrington, professor of sociology at Dartmouth, said in a 2018 interview with NPR: “The lives of the richest people in the world are so different from those of the rest of us, it’s almost literally unimaginable….National borders are nothing to them. They might as well not exist. The laws are nothing to them. They might as well not exist.”

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