BANGKOK – Saudi Arabia has recalled its charge d’affaires to Thailand in a show of discontent, after the appointment of the brother of a police officer suspected in the 1990 murder of a Saudi businessman in Bangkok to the National Legislative Assembly.
Charge d’affaires Abdalelah Alsheaiby “has been called back by Riyadh for consultations,” said a Saudi embassy source “ed by the Bangkok Post on Friday.
The source added the move was not a downgrading of relations between Bangkok and Riyadh as no embassy staff had been withdrawn.
On July 31, General Somjate Boonthanom — brother of Police General Somkid Boonthanom, the main defendant in the 1990 murder case — was appointed by the Thai junta as a member of the National Legislative Assembly — the body in charge of discussing and passing laws until the next post-coup elections in October 2015.
Upon learning of the appointment last week, the Saudi Foreign Ministry recalled its charge d’affaires.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sek Wannamethee also told the Bangkok Post that the recall was not a downgrading of relations as it was probably intended for consultations.
No date has been given for an eventual return of the charge d’affaires to Bangkok.
The case of the murder of Mohammad al-Ruwaili is linked to a long-running saga that has poisoned Thai-Saudi relations for a quarter of a century.
In 1989, a Thai janitor working in the Saudi palace of a prince made off with jewelry reported to be worth between $2 and $20 million. He was arrested in Thailand soon after, police returning the jewelry to the Saudi authorities. But some of the pieces — including a huge, nearly flawless “blue diamond” — turned out to be fake, leading to suspicions that senior police officers and members of Thailand’s powerful elite had copied the lot and ordered a cover-up.
Soon after, four Saudi diplomats based in Bangkok who were attempting to recover the jewelry were murdered. Mohammad al-Ruwaili, a Saudi businessman and a close friend of the murdered diplomats, then disappeared in February 1990 during the police investigation into the killings. His body was never found.
After the diplomats’ killing, a furious Riyadh had downgraded the level of diplomatic relations between the two countries by replacing the ambassador with the chargé d’affaires.
Thailand has continued to investigate the case under tremendous pressure from Saudi Arabia, whose charge d’affaires in the 1990s, Mohammed Khoja, remains adamant that the murders and kidnapping were connected to the theft.
On March 31 this year, the Thai criminal court dismissed for insufficient evidence a case against five Thai policemen, including General Somkid Boonthanom — who is accused of having given the order to kidnap and murder Al-Ruwaili before burning his body. All five denied the charges.
In an exclusive interview with the Anadolu Agency last April, the now recalled charge d’affaires said that the fact the judge on the case had been changed just two weeks before the judgment was a sign of “clear interference.”
“The former judge had worked for three years on the case. He had heard all the witnesses and read all the documents. How could the new judge even pronounce a judgment without knowing anything?” Alsheaiby said.
“There is a deep problem with the Thai justice system,” he added.
The Thai prosecutor-general and the al-Ruwaili family filed an appeal against the acquittal in late June. The court of appeals is now considering the petition.