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Red Bull heir still living it up after hit-and-run

Industry news

Bangkok - The Ferrari FF driver who allegedly slammed into a motorcycle cop, dragged him along the road and then sped away from the mangled body took just hours to find, as investigators followed a trail of brake fluid into the gated estate of one of Thailand's richest families.

But the prosecution of Red Bull heir Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya has been delayed almost five years. When Vorayuth, 31, has been called in to face authorities, he hasn't shown up, claiming through his attorney that he's sick or out of the country on business. And while statutes of limitations run out on key charges this year, it's widely assumed he's hiding, possibly abroad, or quietly living locally, only going out in disguise. He isn't.

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This September 2012 photo shows Yoovidhya's Ferrari and the policeman's motorcycle after the accident in Bangkok. Picture: Thai Daily News via AP.Vorayuth Yoovidhya is accused of killing a Thai police officer in a hit-and-run in 2012, yet he still has not appeared to face charges. XPB Images via AP.

Within weeks of the accident, The Associated Press has found, Vorayuth was back to enjoying his family's jet-set life, largely associated with the Red Bull brand, an energy drink company co-founded by his grandfather. He flies around the world on Red Bull jets, cheers their Formula One racing team from Red Bull's VIP seats and keeps a black Porsche Carrera in London with a custom plate: B055 RBR. Boss Red Bull Racing.

And he's not hard to find.

Last month, social media clues led AP reporters to Vorayuth in the sacred city of Luang Prabang, Laos, where he and his family enjoyed a $1000-a-night (R13 000) resort, visited temples and lounged by the pool.

Critics say inaction in this case epitomizes longstanding privilege for the wealthy class in Thailand, a politically tumultuous country that has struggled with rule of law for decades.

The Yoovidhya family attorney did not respond to AP's request to interview Vorayuth. Police say Vorayuth is once again on notice to show up and hear the charges. He's due at the prosecutors' office this Thursday.

Vorayuth Yoovidhya is accused of killing a Thai police officer in a hit-and-run in 2012, yet he still has not appeared to face charges. Picture: XPB Images via AP.

Vorayuth and his siblings grew up in a private, extended family whose fortune expanded from millions to billions. His brother is nicknamed Porsche, his sister Champagne. Vorayuth received a British education at a $40,000-a-year boarding school.

In rural Thailand, police Sgt. Maj. Wichean Glanprasert didn't have such opportunities, but he was ambitious. The youngest of five, he was the first to leave their coconut and palm farm for the city, the first to get a government job, to graduate from college. He paid for his parents' medical care and supported a sister through cancer. He had no children, but planned to put his brother's kids through college.

Their lives collided pre-dawn on September 3, 2012, when Vorayuth's Ferrari roared down Sukhumvit Road, one of Bangkok's main drags. The bloody accident scene made national headlines for days.

The policeman's family grieved, but they figured at least there would be justice. Wichean was a police officer. Certainly the system would hold his killer responsible.

"At first I thought they'd follow a legal process," said his brother Pornanan. Now he's not so sure.

"We will not let this police officer die without justice. Believe me," said Bangkok Police Commissioner Comronwit Toopgrajank in the days after the accident.

Excuses

As the case unfolded, the Yoovidhya family attorney said Vorayuth left the scene not to flee, but to tell his father. Vorayuth's blood alcohol levels were high because he drank once he got home to settle his nerves, said the attorney.

Sgt. Maj. Wichean's family accepted a settlement, about $100 000. In turn, they promised not to press criminal charges.

"Blood money," says Pornanan, whose share sits in the bank.

Meanwhile, Vorayuth failed to show up when ordered to face criminal charges of speeding, hit-and-run, and deadly, reckless driving. Police say Vorayuth disputes the reckless-driving charge, claiming the officer swerved in front of him. The speeding charge expired after a year. The more serious charge of hit-and-run, which police say carries a penalty of up to six months in jail, expires in September.

Complicating matters, Yoovidhya's attorney has repeatedly filed petitions claiming unfair treatment in the investigation.

Police say it's up to prosecutors to charge him. Prosecutors say extra investigation is needed, but wouldn't specify.

Thammasat University law professor Pokpong Srisanit said the situation is "not normal" but does appear legal.

Meanwhile, the Thai media figures he's laying low.

Last year the Bangkok Post said that after paying the settlement in 2012, Vorayuth "has been out of the country or otherwise unable to answer the criminal case against him in the years since."

A few weeks after the article appeared, a photo of Vorayuth was posted online. He was on the beach at a seaside resort south of Bangkok.

Carefree lifestyle

While Vorayuth's case has been on hold since 2012, his carefree lifestyle has not.

More than 120 social media posts show Vorayuth visiting at least nine countries since Sgt. Maj. Wichean's death. He's cruised Monaco's harbor, snowboarded Japan's powder, and celebrated his birthday at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Osaka, he posed wearing robes from Hogwarts School's darkest dorm, Slytherin House. Friends and cousins posting about him have hundreds of thousands of online followers.

His lifestyle - soaking in an Abu Dhabi pool, dining in Nice, France, holding a $10 000 bicycle in Bangkok - is supported by his family's billions.

The Red Bull story

Vorayuth's grandfather, Chaleo Yoovidhya, was known as a modest, private man who grew up in poverty, the son of a duck seller.

Before Vorayuth was born, Chaleo partnered his company TC Pharma with Austrian entrepreneur, Dietrich Mateschitz, investing $500 000 each to carbonate and market a caffeine-powered syrupy energy drink popular in Thailand. In 1987, Red Bull Energy Drink went international.

Red Bull is now sold in 170 countries. It has its own media company, race cars and jets, and sponsors concerts and extreme athletes. Forbes estimates Vorayuth's father Chalerm Yoovidhya's net worth at $9.7 billion.

Vorayuth's legal situation is far from unique.

In 2010, a 16-year-old unlicensed daughter of a former military officer crashed her sedan into a van, killing nine people. The teen, from an affluent family, was given a two-year suspended sentence and had misunderstandings that postponed her community service until last year.

Her case, and others involving what the local press calls "Bangkok's deadly rich kids," are handled markedly different than most deadly car crashes, in which Thais are typically arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to jail.

Today in his small apartment, Sgt. Maj. Wichean's brother keeps a few photo albums of him. Pornanan says Thailand runs on a "double standard."

AP

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