Thailand on Saturday defended the promotion of a senior police officer facing criminal charges in connection with the disappearance of a Saudi Arabian businessman in Bangkok 10 years ago, responding to criticism from Riyadh.
The Saudi Embassy in Bangkok said the decision to promote Lt. Gen. Somkid Boonthanom, a regional police commissioner, to the post of assistant national police chief could seriously jeopardize efforts to restore normal relations between the nations.
Riyadh downgraded diplomatic relations, withdrawing its ambassador, after the murder of four members of its diplomatic staff in Bangkok in 1989 and 1990, and the 1990 disappearance of businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili. No one was brought to justice in any of the cases.
Saudi officials have expressed suspicion the crimes were linked to the 1989 theft of $2 million worth of gems and jewelry from a prince’s palace in Saudi Arabia by a Thai worker. The thief was arrested and jailed after returning to Thailand.
Only a portion of the gems was ever recovered and returned by Thai police, and some were fake, leading to suspicions that senior police and members of the Thai elite kept the loot and ordered a cover-up.
In January this year, the Thai attorney general’s office filed charges of premeditated murder and illegal detention against Somkid and four other active or former officers. The statute of limitations on the case would have ended in February.
Friday’s embassy statement said Saudi Arabia understood the case would go to Bangkok Criminal Court on Nov. 25, because the attorney general’s office felt it had enough evidence.
The statement suggested that Somkid’s promotion violated Thai law and also jeopardized chances of obtaining justice in the case.
“We want to assure them (Saudi Arabia) that all appointments closely adhere to legal procedure, and have taken into account pertinent court rulings” Thai Government Spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said Saturday. “I believe that the Saudi government would understand this and so we can cooperate and continue to resolve all these cases.”
He said Thailand’s Foreign Ministry was explaining the situation to Saudi representatives.
At the time the charges against Somkid were filed, Saudi Charge d’Affaires to Thailand, Nabil Ashri, expressed appreciation for the move as a “positive indication” that Thailand was committed to improving relations.