Thailand’s wealthy untouchables
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Thailand’s wealthy untouchables

In an update to my post many months ago about Kanpitak here, the BBC’s Jonathan Head has an article entitled “Thailand’s wealthy untouchables”:

There was just such an incident in Thailand last year, which has just gone to court, and which speaks volumes about the dislocating impact of more than four decades of break-neck economic growth.

It was a seemingly routine accident along Sukhumvit Road, one of Bangkok’s busiest and most traffic-clogged thoroughfares.

A Mercedes-Benz was pulled up alongside a city bus, and a young man was having an angry exchange with the bus driver, whom he accused of scraping against his car.

The passengers started shouting at the man, who got back into his car and appeared to be about to leave.

But instead he accelerated forwards onto the pavement and into the crowd of passengers, crushing several of them under his vehicle.

One woman later died, and several other passengers were seriously injured.

A fit of road rage perhaps? The police charged the young man, Kanpitak Pachimsawas, with murder.

But the case very quickly turned into one about class differences, about the perceived arrogance of Thailand’s rich, towards the poor.

‘Bad attitude’

Kanpitak, it turned out, was the 20-year-old son of a former Miss Thailand beauty queen and a wealthy businessman.

He was also the nephew of a powerful police officer.

The bus driver reported that his father had arrived at the scene and threatened to use his police connections against the passengers.

“He thinks he has money and a big family name, so he can do things like this to poor people,” the bus conductor told reporters at the scene.

Kanpitak’s father was unrepentant. Speaking on a TV chat show two days later, he showed more concern for his son than his victims.

Responding to the bus conductor’s comments he said: “They are uneducated. That’s how they are.

“They think they are abused, that rich people are bad, that the police are bad. Lower class people have a bad attitude towards police officers and rich people. They hate us and curse us.”

Thailand has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth anywhere on the planet, despite some recent improvements.

BP: The article then talk about a recent LeBua dinner – you might also want to see this IHT article for more details.

What is so striking about Thailand’s inequality is how little visible social tension there is.

For the most part people appear to accept their lot without resentment. Some put this down to Buddhist concepts of fate and karma, others, to Thailand’s deep-rooted sense of hierarchy, with the king at its apex.

Social activist and former Senator Jon Ungpakorn sees more prosaic causes.

“Because of the high growth rates in Thailand there is a sort of buffer,” he says.

Even the poor feel they are doing better than they would have done many years ago. They still see that they have opportunities ahead.”

‘Damage is done’

The case of Kanpitak Pachimsawas has struck a raw nerve.

Websites in Thailand are filled with comments demanding that the young man face the full force of the law, regardless of his family connections.

Some poke fun at his father’s claim that it was mental stress that caused him to drive his car into the crowd.

But there is little of the blistering anger that erupted in China after a similar case four years ago, when a woman who drove her BMW at a farmer she had been arguing with, killing his wife, was given only a suspended jail sentence.

It forced the Chinese authorities to reopen the case, and to close down websites carrying the online debate over the case.

In Thailand, Kanpitak Pachimsawas was released on bail and, amazingly, even allowed to continue driving.

On his first day in court he was apparently overcome by nerves and said he was unable to answer any questions. The judge adjourned the case until November. He may never go to prison.

Suchira Insawan, the daughter of the woman he killed, says she feels no anger towards him.

She has yet to receive any compensation from the Pachimsawas family – she has asked for 7m baht ($222,000; £111,000) but is likely to get less, perhaps even less than the list price of the Mercedes-Benz that crushed her mother.

“The damage is done,” she told me. “I forgive him. I don’t want to destroy his future, I don’t want him to be jailed. I don’t want bad karma.”

She also had little faith that the courts would find against such a privileged young man.

“Many parts of the Thai bureaucratic system favour rich people. If you are not one of them, you will always be left at the back of the queue.”

BP: He was indicted on “premeditated murder, attempted murder and assault in November last year”. I should note this is a charge of assault causing injury (“ทำร้ายร่างกายผู้อื่นทำให้ได้รับบาดเจ็บ”) and the premeditated murder charge carries the death penalty (Source: Kom Chad Luek).

At the time, according to Thai Rath, 9 people had filed complaints with the police against him (นอกจากนี้ มีผู้เสียหายเข้าแจ้งความเพื่อดำเนินคดีกับนายกัณฑ์พ ิทักษ์แล้ว 9 ราย) so it was going to be difficult for him to “negotiate” his way out.

From the original incident:

Mr Kanpithak is accused of smashing a rock into the face of bus driver Sathaporn Arunsiri at 10.50pm on July 4 near Sukhumvit soi 26 in Wattana district, after his Mercedes Benz was involved in a minor incident with the bus.

Mr Kanpithak is also accused of ramming his sedan into bus passengers who had assembled on the nearby pavement, seriously injuring three people, including Saichon Luangsaeng, 42, who later died in hospital.

The prosecutor told the court he would present 19 witnesses over three hearings.

Mr Kanpithak’s lawyer will present only two witnesses in one hearing.

Manoch Tojuang, Sangwal Seehawong and Suchira Inthasuwan yesterday applied to the court to be co-plaintiffs in the case. The court agreed.

The three are relatives of those injured and killed in the incident.

BP: It has since been reported he pleaded guilty to assault, but “denied two other charges, murder and attempted murder” although Matichon just states he denied all charges.

Oddly, despite his parents previously stating he was uncontrollable, they seem to be enabling his driving* and he has got in another accident:

Kanpithak Patchimsawat, who gained notoriety for lethally driving his car into a bus passenger queue, was involved in another altercation with a bus yesterday.

Mr Kanpithak, also known as Mu Ham, grazed a public bus with his sedan in Wang Thonglang district, a repeat road offence that could see his driver’s licence revoked for life.

The incident happened on Lat Phrao road in front of Chokechai Si market near Soi Lat Phrao 55/2. No one was hurt.

The 20-year-old son of former Miss Thailand Sawinee Pakaranang was driving a Honda Accord when he scraped the side of a No 545 bus, which travels between Samrong and Nonthaburi.

He told traffic police who responded that he knew high-ranking police officers.

The man is a nephew of retired assistant police chief Pol Lt-Gen Ukrit Patchimsawat.

Later, his father, Mr Kan-anek, arrived and agreed to pay the bus driver 2,000 baht for repairs.

Pol Col Jirapat Phumijit, Thong Lor police chief, who handled the case, said Mr Kanpithak’s driver’s licence is still valid. Because of the three serious charges, police did not bring ”weaker” charges, which would immediately have suspended his licence.

”This new incident is deemed as a repeat offence. It is now up to the court to rule whether to revoke his driving licence or to ban him from driving for good,” Pol Col Jirapat said.

DailyXpress had an opinion piece on the issue:

t is disturbing to learn that Kanpitak Pachimsawas, a man who is standing trial for a widely publicised road rage in which he killed a woman and injured several others last year, was involved in another accident last week.

Fortunately, this time, the volatile young man did not throw a tantrum, or lose control.

When he launched into a terrifying fit of anger last July – after his Mercedes-Benz car was scraped by a city bus – he ploughed his vehicle into a crowded bus stop on Sukhumvit Road, killing one and seriously hurting several people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the accident.

In last week’s incident, police arrived at the accident scene to find a visibly disturbed Kanpitak in his car.

According to police, Kanpitak appeared to be under severe stress after the minor accident and his parents had to come and collect him.

This is the same person who will be pleading in court he had been mentally unstable at the time of the death and mayhem caused by his last outburst. He will try to convince judges he cannot be held fully responsible for his actions.

But the question here is why haven’t public prosecutors sought an order suspending Kanpitak’s driving licence? What are they waiting for, more innocent people to die as a result of the unpredictability of Kanpitak’s behaviour?

BP: Indeed.

A Thai doctor has an interesting op-ed in Krungthep Turakit and notes that Section 65 of the Criminal Code provides that that if the person commits an offence and it was involuntary/they had no control of themselves, or they are mentally ill then that person will not be punished. However, if that person can control themselves to some degree or have some degree of awareness (่ถ้าผู้กระทำความผิดยังสามารถรู้ผิดชอบอยู่บ้าง หรือยังสามารถบังคับตนเองได้บ้าง) then they should be punished accordingly although the court can reduce the degree of punishment. He notes the case of a lady who attacked girls at St. Joseph Convents [BP: see here for more details] who escaped punishment, but was confined to a medical facility in order to protect the public. He also says that the court in such cases listens to expert testimony for witnesses and will not just make a decision on the presentation of behaviour in court.

BP: I really can’t fathom how he can get off and not been institutionalised. It is more a question of how severe his punishment is. This will turn on eyewitness testimony and I am sure the court is aware this case is being followed closely. Given he is currently in court and the prosecutor has assembled 19 witnesses, I am not sure he is really “untouchable”.

*Given his inability to do much, I can’t imagine he is working and has saved up enough money to buy his own car. Now, he could have stolen the keys from his parents, but given his family situation, I would be more willing to bet his parents gave him the keys. I noted he has been demoted from a Merc to a mere Honda Accord.