For the past five years, Vorayuth Yoovidhya has been facing criminal charges related to the predawn hit-skip death. But legal maneuvering has delayed the case.
Nicknamed “Boss,” the 32-year-old, a member of Thailand’s fourth wealthiest family, has repeatedly failed to show for court hearings to address charges related to the death of Sgt. Maj. Wichean Glanprasert — speeding, hit-and-run and reckless driving.
The Yoovidhyas are behind Red Bull, the high-octane energy concoction — and an associated extreme sports brand — now a worldwide staple of all-night study sessions, overextended partygoers and late shifts. Thanks to a family fortune stretching to $12.5 billion, according to Forbes, Yoovidhya has been able to resume a freewheeling jet-set lifestyle while avoiding judgment on the 2012 death.
Thai authorities are now hoping to jump-start the case with an assist from international law enforcement. On Monday, Interpol released a “red notice” for Yoovidhya, the Associated Press reported. The request alerts police departments around the world to arrest the energy drink scion pending extradition.
“We have been informed that Interpol has issued a Red Notice on the Red Bull heir, and we now have to wait to see what kind of responses we get from member countries,” Thai police spokesman Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen told the AP. “We have been working on this case and pursuing it using all means, and this Red Notice is what we can do when we believe that it’s possible that he is hiding in foreign countries.”
But time is key. The statute of limitations expired earlier this year on one of the charges Yoovidhya faces; the clock on another is set to give out Sept. 3.
The Red Bull empire starts with Chaleo Yoovidhya, Vorayuth Yoovidhya’s grandfather. Born to Chinese immigrants in northern Thailand, Chaleo first worked as a duck farmer and bus driver before founding a pharmaceutical company in 1962 to manufacture antibiotics and vitamins. One of his products — Krating Daeng or “red bull” — was an energy-boasting syrup popular with “day laborers, weary long-haul truckers and rickshaw drivers,” as The Washington Post reported in 2012.
In 1982, one of those drinks landed in the hands of Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian toothpaste salesman who was in Thailand on business. He persuaded Chaleo to team up with him, and in 1987 the pair launched modern Red Bull, complete with the carbonation and signature slim can.
By the time Chaleo died in 2012, the company was selling 4.4 billion cans each year in 162 countries. The company’s founder, who had not given an interview in more than 30 years, was at the time the 205th richest person in the world, according to Forbes.
Much of that wealth, however, is today reportedly in a complex network of offshore accounts. According to the AP, the Yoovidhyas money was set up by the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca, and financial details of the Red Bull fortune were among the documents released by news organizations as part of the 2016 Panama Papers, a huge leak of files listing alleged secret offshore holdings of some of the world’s most prominent figures.
Vorayuth Yoovidhya shared none of his grandfather’s hard-knocks origins. According to a detailed AP profile from earlier this year, Yoovidhya, like many children in wealthy Thai families, was sent to an expensive boarding school in England for his education. His brother and sister were nicknamed “Porsche” and “Champagne,” respectively.
And like other Thai children of privilege, when Yoovidhya fell into trouble with the law, he enjoyed special treatment. “There is most certainly a culture of impunity here that big people, which means roughly people with power and money, expect to be able to get away with a certain amount of wrongdoing,” British historian Chris Baker, who had written about Thai culture, told the AP. “This happens so often, so constantly, it is very clearly part of the working culture.”
That privilege kicked into gear immediately after police tracked the oil slick from the scene of the 2012 hit-and-run to the Red Bull heir. Initially, a Thai police officer tried to present an alternative — and bogus — suspect to investigators. Then, Yoovidhya’s attorneys claimed he had not fled the scene of the accident, but returned home to tell his father. When the results from a blood sobriety test showed Yoovidhya was intoxicated at the time, his attorneys said the scion had consumed alcohol after the wreck in release tension. Yoovidhya was arrested but easily posted bond.
In the ensuing five years, delays and excuses filed by attorneys have succeeded in keeping Yoovidhya out of court. Although many thought he was in hiding, the AP discovered the opposite. Yoovidhya has been enjoying the high-profile lifestyle of a global one-percenter: staying in a $1,000-a-night resort in Laos; lounging by a pool in Abu Dhabi; driving a Porsche around London, where the family owns four multimillion dollar properties. In April, the AP tracked Yoovidhya to a five-story home in the United Kingdom capital. Hours after answering the door and declining comment, Yoovidhya, his mother and father fled the property. It was the last time the fugitive was seen in public.
Two days before he was scheduled to appear before a court last May, Yoovidhya flew out of the country on a private jet, reportedly one of several owned by his family’s company. The escape prompted the Thai government to cancel the scion’s passport. This week’s intervention on behalf of Interpol is another attempt to widen the international net for Yoovidhya as the five-year anniversary of the hit-and-run approaches on Sept. 3.
Persistence — coupled with international help — may be the solution. Although the statute of limitations will expire on one of the two remaining charges over the weekend, the third charge, causing death by reckless driving, has an additional 10 years.
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