Red Bull distances itself from Thai heir after fatal hit-and-run case dropped

Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, the grandson of Redbull co-founder Chaleo Yoovidhya, as seen in Bangkok on Sept 3, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - The maker of energy drink giant Red Bull has distanced itself from its Thai heir following public outrage after police dropped charges against the billionaire scion in a fatal hit-and-run case.

Mr Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, the grandson of Mr Chaleo Yoovidhya - who co-founded Red Bull - and is one of the heirs to the family's business, was accused of killing a police officer in 2012 when he crashed his Ferrari in Bangkok's most exclusive neighbourhood.

An arrest warrant came five years later, but by then he had fled in a private jet to Singapore.

On Friday (July 24), police confirmed that the remaining charges against him had been dropped, including reckless driving causing death.

The decision stirred outrage among the Thai public over the culture of impunity enjoyed by the kingdom's rich, with the hashtags #BossRedBull and #BoycottRedbull trending on Twitter in both English and Thai over the weekend.

Late Saturday, TCP Group - the Thai parent company of the energy drink giant - released a statement on the "misunderstanding" over Mr Vorayuth's relationship with the company.

He "has never assumed any role in the management and daily operations of TCP Group, was never a shareholder, nor has he held any executive position within TCP Group", the statement said.

It said the case "is a personal affair of Mr Vorayuth Yoovidhya".

Before the arrest warrant was issued in 2017, Mr Vorayuth continued to lead a lavish, jet-set lifestyle, making public appearances at Red Bull-sponsored events.

A family employee initially took the blame in the case before media scrutiny forced police to review their investigations.

Police said on Friday they had received a letter in June from the Attorney-General's Office with its decision to drop the charges, declining to provide a reason.

An immigration spokesman told AFP that his name has been off the blacklist since July 14 at the request of the police, and Mr Vorayuth's last recorded departure was in April 2017.

Thais took to Twitter over the weekend to slam the decision.

"Once again in my country, money and power is bending the rules," posted one user who used the hashtag #BoycottRedBull.

The news comes as the kingdom is in the middle of a nascent pro-democracy protest movement led by mostly young Thais demanding an end to impunity enjoyed by the wealthy, pro-military establishment.

Mr Vorayuth's side of the family had inherited the fortune built up by his late grandfather, Mr Chaleo Yoovidhya, who co-founded the Red Bull brand with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz in the 1980s.

Today, the Yoovidhya clan boasts a net worth of US$20.2 billion (S$27.9 billion), making them the second-richest family in Thailand, according to Forbes.

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