Red Bull heir enjoys jet-set life 4 years after hit-and-run

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Within weeks of the accident, The Associated Press has found, Vorayuth, then 27, 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. (XPB Images via AP)

The Ferrari 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.

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, an energy drink brand 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.

Last month, social media clues led AP reporters to the sacred city of Luang Prabang, Laos, where he and his family enjoyed a $1,000-a-night 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.

He's due at the prosecutors' office again, this Thursday.

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His brother is nicknamed Porsche, his sister Champagne. Vorayuth and his siblings grew up in a family whose fortune expanded from millions to billions. He attended a $40,000-a-year boarding school in the United Kingdom.

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

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

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

"At first I thought they'd follow a legal process," said his brother Pornanan.

Now he's not so sure.

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"We will not let this police officer die without justice. Believe me," Comronwit Toopgrajank, then Bangkok police commissioner, said after the accident.

As the case unfolded, the Yoovidhya family attorney said Vorayuth left the scene not to flee, but to tell his father; and that his blood alcohol levels were high because he drank later to settle his nerves.

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 could lead to a six-month sentence, expires in September.

Complicating matters, Yoovidhya's attorney has repeatedly filed petitions claiming unfair treatment by authorities.

Police said prosecutors need to charge him. Prosecutors, without elaborating, said extra investigation is needed.

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

Meanwhile, Thai media figure 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.

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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 Wichean's death. He's cruised Monaco's harbor, snowboarded Japan's powder, and celebrated his birthday at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. Friends and cousins posting about him have hundreds of thousands of online followers.

His lavish lifestyle is supported by his family's billions.

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

Today Red Bull is sold in 170 countries. It has race cars and jets, and sponsors extreme athletes. Vorayuth's father, Chalerm Yoovidhya, is worth $9.7 billion, Forbes estimates.

Vorayuth's situation isn't unique.

In 2010, a 16-year-old unlicensed daughter from an affluent, influential family crashed her sedan into a van, killing nine people. The teen was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Her case, and others involving what the local press calls "Bangkok's deadly rich kids," are handled differently than most deadly car crashes. In ordinary cases, Thais are arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to jail.
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