The Anna Reese cop-kill: Impunity of elites reigns over justice in Thailand
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The Anna Reese cop-kill: Impunity of elites reigns over justice in Thailand

By Alexandra Demetrianova

It wasn’t an extraordinary story to begin with. A deadly car crash in a country where 26, 000 people die on the roads every year, it comes as no surprise that yet another person died due to speeding and road racing. Also in the context of Thailand, there hadn’t been a major celebrity involved. Anna Reese, the Thai-English actress who rammed her speeding Mercedes into a parked car, where a policeman was resting, is a “B-list” celebrity in Thailand’s show business and celebrity culture. Not even a police officer killed in an accident or assault is an unusual news in Thailand. What really made the headlines was what came after, which doesn’t come a surprise in Thailand. On the contrary, it underlines the inequality and special treatment some get in the Kingdom, and how money and power decide justice.

“I pray every night, and a part of me believes he has forgiven me,” said a tearful Reese at police officer Sub. Lt. Napadol Wongbandit’s cremation ceremony last week. She attended the service to ask for forgiveness from policeman’s family. The 27-year-old actress a came in a white ensemble, as she had declared herself a Buddhist nun for 7 days at Wat Yannawa in Bangkok. She is said to have meditated, prayed to the deceased police officer, and find peace.

Crying and holding her hands in a ‘wai’ she leaned on Sub. Lt. Napadol Wongbandit’s wife asking for forgiveness and bowed down to her feet in deepest respect. When interviewed by the present media about the legal consequences of the deadly car crash, she honestly replied: “I don’t know much about the legal process, but I’ve left it with my lawyer. My blood tests were cleared. I’ll take responsibility the best I can.” But will she really?

There were several flaws in this case made by police, and an obvious attempt by Reese to manipulate the incident in order to achieve a more lenient outcome. One of the reasons that Reese’s blood-tests were cleared could be the fact that she took the examination more than 12 hours after the car crash. At the scene of the accident police failed to seal off the area from public and media and basically gave way to an interesting piece of theatre, recorded on video and blasted all over social media. With total disregard for the victim, his family and transparent investigation into why Reese rammed her car into a parked vehicle and killed a person, police stood about and observed as someone was shooting a video of the aftermath.

Anna was clearly distressed, crying and seemingly in shock, mumbling and throwing herself on the dead body of the police officer. One can hardly judge an individual’s behavior after an accident, when person can slip into deep shock. Moving around the scene nervously, always making sure she’s in sight of the camera and even posing for photos, the actress however didn’t look convincing, as her reaction reminded many of soap operas and other drama performance.

When asked to go to the police station, she refused saying: “No, no, no. I’m not ready. Don’t hurt me. I’m not going.” After repeated fails to convince Reese to join the police to the station for questioning, she was allowed to go home and recover from being “too traumatized” after killing a person. The blood tests, which took place the next day, were therefore of little to any value at all. Witnesses from the scene claim that her car seemed to be racing with a “big bike”, which sped off after the crash.

(READ MORE: The unlikely business of equality in Thailand)

And there the story ends. Anna Reese has served 7 days as a Buddhist nun, she will pay to the grieving family and will probably remain quiet for a while. Even if police pressed realistic charges, the case is most likely to end with a pay-off to the family and them dropping charges. She showed remorse and asked for forgiveness, then practice clear religious devotion, though very briefly. And that is enough for the public and media, the rest will be arranged behind closed doors.

VorayuthYoovidhya

Thailand’s billionaire Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya. Pic: AP.

What really decided this case are clearly fame, power and money. We’ve seen before in Thailand. The justice system and laws are in place but only for those who can’t pay themselves out. It had become standard for the rich and powerful to not be prosecuted for their often hideous crimes. Anna Reese’s case reminded many of Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya. Then 27 and driving his Ferrari in high speed in early morning hours in Bangkok, he hit a police officer on motorcycle and dragged his body behind for a while, not stopping and killing the man. Vorayuth’s face was all over media, so the prominent member of Thai elite was charged, but the case turned chaotic. Bailed out for 500,000 baht, suddenly there was another person claiming to be the driver and soon after the rich heir left Thailand for Singapore. He failed to appear at the court six times with excuses like “He suddenly fell ill which made it impossible for him to travel back today,” coming from his lawyer Thanit Buakeaw. An arrest warrant has been issued, but no one has  heard of Vorayuth since. Yoovidhyas are Thailand’s 4th richest family, according to Forbes, so clearly the topic died out.

The most shocking of all cases of elites reigning over justice system in Thailand is Thai politician Chalerm Yubamrung’s youngest son Duang. Back in 2002 he was accused of shooting dead an on-duty police officer in a crowded nightclub in Bangkok in front of many witnesses. He fled to Malaysia and was discharged from the military. When he surrendered the following year, he was later acquitted of murder charges. The Criminal Court cited insufficient evidence and conflicting witness testimonies. Duang laid low for a while and then in 2008 he was allowed back into the military and a few years later he became a police officer. His father Chalerm let slip a joke when he learned about Duang joining police ranks: “He’s a sharp shooter.”

Inequality in Thailand is present, certainly causing this impunity of elites when it comes to justice. Why aren’t people protesting about it, but rather turning a blind eye with fading media interest? The answer might be complicated, but how much can be really done about it? Thai society has become accustomed to elite and preferential treatment and even embraces it as a natural part of the daily life. But is it really?

In the current political environment in Thailand it has become somewhat a mantra to fight the corruption and elitism of the Thaksin era. The former PM toppled by military coup has himself fled conviction of corruption and jail sentence, residing in exile and influencing politics in Thailand. And therefore to convince the Thai public that those times are really over, PM Prayuth’s government needs to do more to remove the double standards for elites and the rest of the common people. In Thailand’s justice system, the rich and powerful have immunity, while prisons are overcrowded with the poor.

(READ MORE: Thailand: Justice looks elusive in Koh Tao murders trial)

Image via Bangkok Post