Saudi Arabia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Thailand in 1990 after the murder of four Saudi diplomats, the murder of a Saudi businessman, and the theft of jewellery from the Saudi royal family. The latter is known as the Blue Diamond affair – see post here for more details. In 2010, there finally seemed progress in one of the cases, namely the murder of a Saudi businessman, when five police officers were indicted, including Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom. Then, the Suthep-led Police Commission in 2010 made a decision to promote Somkid to be Assistant Police Chief (despite facing an indictment for murder), but after the Saudis kicked up a fuss (that is putting it mildly), he declined the promotion.
Lt. Gen. Somkid and the others were recently acquitted. The Bangkok Post on March 31:
Abdalelah Mohammed A Alsheaiby, the Saudi charge d’affaires to Thailand, said he hoped for an appeal in the latest case that sprang from the theft of a revered Blue Diamond and a large amount of jewellery from a Saudi palace in 1989.
Matrouk al-Ruwaili, a brother-in-law of the missing businessman at the centre of Monday’s case and a complainant in the case, said he felt Thailand after 24 years was still showing lack of fairness. He said he would press for an appeal.
Riyadh also will quickly be mulling possible additional retaliatory measures in response to the “disappointing verdict,” added Mr Abdalelah.
The Southern Bangkok Criminal Court spent 30 minutes on Monday reading the verdict that acquitted the five defendants, all of whom are current or past police officers. Cleared for lack of evidence were Pol Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom, a former police inspector-general and younger brother of a 2006 coup participant; Pol Col Sorarak Jusanit, superintendent of Sommoei police in Mae Hong Son; Pol Col Praphas Piyamongkol, superintendent of Nam Khun police in Ubon Ratchathani; and two decommissioned officers, Pol Lt Col Suradej Udomdee and Pol Sgt Maj Prasong Thongrung.
The five were charged in connection with the suspected abduction and possible murder of Saudi businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili in February, 1990. The court said it must give the benefit of the doubt to all the defendants, since there was not enough evidence to convict the men.
Mr Abdalelah held a press conference soon afterward, saying the the embassy was not surprised but displeased with the verdict.
“Since a leading judge in the case has been changed just months before the conclusion of the verdict had already raised our concerns and worries that it would affect the results of the case in a negative light to the interests of Saudi Arabia,” said Mr Abdalelah.
In a separate interview, Mr Abdalelah said the criminal lawsuit against the five policemen was the only remaining case that might bring some justice to the Saudi Arabian nationals as the cases of the slain diplomats are considered closed due to the litigation expiration.
“Of course, the (Riyadh) government will be displeased with the verdict as this case is in the attention of the Saudi king and the public. The king of Saudi Arabia will have a final say whether and how Riyadh should respond to the disappointing and unfair verdict,” said Mr. Abdalelah.
BP: In case you were wondering, what Lt. Gen. Somkid has been doing in the meantime. He is retired now, but he is still “serving the nation”. The Bangkok Post on March 22:
Thaworn Senneam, a core member of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), has been handling legal disputes involving the group from the start.
The PDRC leader was reportedly looking to improve supervision of protest guards who have been criticised for allegedly ending up on the wrong side of the law.
Mr Suthep had wanted to rein in the guard operation but did not have a chance until the recent consolidation of the protest venues.
Mr Thaworn, however, is not handling the guards alone. He has Pol Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom, a retired police officer, on his team. The ex-police officer commands respect from the protest guards.
According to Mr Thaworn, while Mr Suthep is deeply concerned about the safety of the protesters, he stresses the need to do what is necessary and appropriate.
“The protest guards must be unarmed. They must be polite with the protesters. They should do their job in a way that is appropriate. Those who can’t comply are free to leave,” Mr Thaworn said.
BP: Surprised the Bangkok Post didn’t notice the link, but BP is fairly sure the Saudis did notice. Of course, given Lt. Gen. Somkid’s alleged rule in the abduction and murder of a Saudi businessman, one shouldn’t be surprised he is helping Suthep and Co given and no doubt he is teaching the guards a few tricks.
NOTE: To be clear, the PDRC was only formed last year and of course the murder of the businessman and theft of the jewellery happened more than 20 years ago so there is not a connection in that way. It was just that BP was surprised to see that while the most senior of the five police officers is facing trial over abduction and murder that he helps out in handling the PDRC guards. A tidbit well worth sharing.