BANGKOK – A court in Thailand dismissed a case against five men including a senior policeman accused of slaying a Saudi businessman whose disappearance 24 years ago strained diplomatic relations. Bangkok’s Criminal Court ruled that there was not enough evidence to try the case.
Saudi Arabia has long suspected official involvement in the 1990 disappearance of businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili and the murders of four members of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic staff in Bangkok. Saudis have suggested that the murders were linked to the theft of US$2 million worth of royal jewels by Thai gardener Kriangkrai Techamong, from a palace in Riyadh. Many jewels were never recovered.
Saudi Arabia downgraded relations with Thailand following the crimes and ties have never fully been restored.
Monday’s ruling cleared charges against former police Lt. Gen. Somkid Boonthanom and four other officers. All had been facing charges of premeditated murder and the illegal detention of al-Ruwaili.
In 2010, the Thai police planned to promote Somkid to be an assistant national police chief, prompting strong criticism from Saudi Arabia, which said the move could jeopardize efforts to restore normal diplomatic relations. Somkid later declined the promotion.
In 1989, US$2 million worth of gems and jewelry were stolen from a Saudi Arabian prince’s palace in Riyadh. A Thai worker at the palace was subsequently arrested and jailed for the theft after returning to Thailand. A portion of the gems recovered and returned turned out to be fake, leading to suspicions that senior police and members of Thailand’s power elite kept the loot and ordered a cover-up.
The five senior police officers implicated and accused of kidnapping and murder of the businessman include Pol Lt-Gen Somkit Boonthanom, former commissioner of the Fifth Region Provincial Police Headquarters, Pol Col Sorarak Chusanit, superintendent of Sob Moei district police of Mae Hong Son province, Pol Col Prapass Piyamongkol, superintendent of Namkhun district police of Ubon Ratchathani province, and two retired police officer Pol Lt-Col Suradej Udomdee, and Pol Sgt Prasong Torrang.
The state prosecutor filed charges against the five officers in the Criminal Court on January 23, 2010, accusing them of kidnapping, pre-meditated murder and cover of crimes in 1990
The state prosecutor said on January 4, 1989, a Saudi diplomat was shot dead at Silom area in Bang Rak district of Bangkok. The killing prompted the Saudi government to seek protection for its diplomats in Thailand. The Saudi embassy also repeated its call to the Police Department at that time several times.
But on February 1, 1990, three Saudi diplomats were shot dead in two incidents in Yannawa area. The Thai government at that time had ordered the then police chief Pol Gen Sawaeng Thirasawat to hunt down the murderers.
It said during February 12-15, the five police officers had been tasked with the assignment to conduct investigation and hunt down the murderers.
The five defendants later kidnapped the Saudi businessman Mohammad Al-Ruwaili, who had close connection with the Faisal royal family, on belief that he was involved in the deaths of Saudi diplomats in conflict relating to the export of Thai workers to Saudi Arabi.
They detained the Saudi businessman at Chim Pli hotel in Klong Ton area, bodily assaulting, torturing him in bid to force him confess that he was involved in the shootings of the Saudi diplomats. The businessman was later shot dead by the group of officers.
The state prosecutors told the court that such action of these officers showed that they had premeditated the murder of the businessman.
They told the court that after killing him, these officers brought his body to dispose of by burning at a plantation in Sriracha district of Chonburi to cover up the crime.
In the renewed investigation, the five officers were later summoned to hear charges by the Department of Special Investigation.
The DSI was tasked to renew the case after there was no progress in the past 20 years.
In the new probe, a golden ring was claimed to be a new evidence.
The ring was said to be recovered by an investigator Pol Lt Col Suvichai Kaewpaluek, at the bottom of a partly burnt oil drum and believed to be owned by the Saudi businessman.
The DSI then proposed the state prosecutor to bring the five officers to trial on kidnap and premeditated murder.
But the Criminal Court was suspicious about the recovered golden ring claimed by the DSI. It said that the prosecutor did not bring the investigator who is the key witness to the case to testify to the court, but just a written account of his finding.
Besides there were many causes of suspicions about the golden ring which was claimed to belong to the Saudi businessman, the court said.
The court then questioned why the key witness did not report the ring to his superior but to Pol Lt-Gen Chalor Kerdthes who had nothing to do with the case.
The court concluded that it needed to listen to the plaintiff’s testimony with caution and the key evidence contained so many causes of suspicions.
In the emergence of suspicion in the case, the court said it has to acquit the five defendants of the charges for the benefit of the accused.