Fleeing heir puts Red Bull’s future on the line

opinion May 09, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

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Few countries share Thailand’s tolerance for wealthy suspects evading justice



Being a Thai company fully exposed to the Western market and mores, Red Bull must realise there are possible commercial consequences stemming from Vorayuth Yoovidhya’s flight from the law. Accused of a fatal hit and run in Bangkok, the son of its patriarch only made matters worse last week when he again failed to show up for an appointment with prosecutors and instead went into hiding.

Red Bull is a major, internationally recognised brand, but its reputation is now imperilled by a situation that ought to have been resolved years ago. The firm would be making a mistake if it assumes calls for a boycott of the “energy drink” and the racing events it sponsors will recede away. Public fury over high-profile crimes like this often fades with time in Thailand, but that doesn’t happen in the West, including most countries where Red Bull is marketed.

The company cannot count on Thai forgetfulness manifesting abroad. It’s common for Thai suspects to flee legal action and later re-emerge to pursue comfortable lives as if nothing had ever happened. Corporations don’t consider their executives’ wrongdoings to represent commercial setbacks. Conviction for insider trading needn’t hurt the employer’s profits. When the children of wealthy and well-connected people are involved in fatal accidents, the default ploy is to lay low until the social storm has passed. 

There are good Thai characteristics and bad Western ones. Yet the undue privilege granted people holding high social or commercial status is this country’s undisputed national shame. True “equality” has little to do with whether ordinary people can choose senators, but it is demonstrated through our day-to-day judicial process. The Red Bull suspect is apparently exploiting social weaknesses in his homeland and hoping the same phenomena shield him elsewhere.

Vorayuth reportedly fled the country on his private jet three days before a warrant was belatedly issued for his arrest, nearly five years after he allegedly knocked down, dragged and killed a Bangkok policeman and then drove away from the scene without stopping.

Bringing him to justice is a must. Perhaps the net is tightening now that his passport has been revoked. His capture would go a long way towards erasing the perception that the rich are above the law. Far too often the authorities have been accused of letting influential suspects off the hook, and that is what Vorayuth’s unhampered passage through Immigration suggests as well.

Still, the scrutiny that law enforcement undergoes locally is nothing compared to what will happen if the accused is spotted at a Red Bull event overseas. The resulting outcry would be directed not at the Thai authorities but the company. If Red Bull is not motivated by conscience in this matter, it should be aware of the likely commercial fallout. Nor does it appear that Vorayuth will inherit the business empire if his legal woes aren’t settled first.

Red Bull should remember that what’s at stake isn’t just a young man’s future, but also that of a company whose international reputation took a long time to build. 

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