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Thai-Saudi Relations

Surapong tells Saudis he 'feels regret'

Saudi diplomats seeking a meeting with him in the wake of key court verdict

CARETAKER Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said yesterday that Saudi diplomats were seeking a meeting with him in the wake of a key court verdict acquitting five policemen of the alleged abduction and murder of Saudi businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili.

Surapong said he "felt regret" about the acquittal, which was a disappointment to the victim's relatives. He deplored that Thai-Saudi relations were not better and remained strained. "[However] the relations, I believe, will not get any worse, and travel or communication between the people of the two countries will not be affected," he added.

Asked whether he viewed the acquittal as an unjust decision, Sura-pong said: "No, we understand the Thai justice system, but we cannot stop the al-Ruwaili family from being disappointed in the acquittal."

Surapong said he was worried the justice system did not yield the outcome expected by the businessman's relatives. He said if Saudi Arabia was to discuss the acquittal with Islamic countries and found the Thai justice system had flaws, it might affect long-term investment and business opportunities "if we cannot give foreigners the justice they deserve".

Surapong said reform of the Thai justice system would be needed after a general election. "And after the new government takes power, reforms of many institutions would be conducted to create the greatest possible justice under international standards," he said.

Al-Ruwaili's relatives had said earlier at a press interview that it was Saudi authorities who would decide what to do if the court ruling was not in the family's favour.

A spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, Nantasak Poolsak, said al-Ruwaili's relatives had informed the OAG they would take further action as joint plaintiffs in their appeals against the acquittal, and would discuss how to work together in furthering the legal process.

According to claims by the Department of Special Investigation, which sought a reopening of the trial through two new pieces of evidence it produced - a statement by a policeman and a ring thought to belong to the victim - the new evidence was discounted as unconvincing.

Pol Lt-Colonel Suwitchai Kaewphaluek claimed he was given the ring by one of the five defendants, who allegedly retrieved it from a steel barrel used to burn the victim's body at a ranch in Chon Buri. Suwitchai gave his statements about the ring in another country. That was in violation of criminal procedural law and the Constitution. As a result, his statements presented during the trial were discounted.

The ring, made of gold and bearing the image of a crescent moon, was discounted as suspicious, as it is against Islamic rules for Muslims to use gold as decorative items. The victim's relatives, when shown the ring prior to the trial, could not certify that al-Ruwalli owned it. The emergence of the ring was not even included as evidence by public prosecutors.


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