A THAI national at the center of a diplomatic spat over a decades-old jewel heist, including the famous ‘Blue Diamond’, from a Saudi Arabian palace embraced Buddhist monkhood on Thursday in an effort to “redeem [his] bad karma.”
In 1989, Kriangkrai Techamong worked as a gardener at the palace of Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd. According to Vice News, he sneaked into a palace bedroom one night, broke open a safe, and grabbed 200 pounds of jewelry collectively worth about US$20 million.
A rare 50-carat blue diamond was among the stolen gems, lending its name to the long-running case (the “Blue Diamond Affair”) that has seen countless twists and turns over the years.
According to AFP, Kriangkrai told local media that the theft brought great suffering and misfortune to him and his family, alleging that the blue diamond is cursed.
“I am confident that all my misfortunes are the result of a curse from the (blue) Saudi diamond I stole, so I’ve decided to enter the monkhood for the rest of my life to redeem my bad karma,” AFP quoted him as saying.
According to Thai television station Channel 7, Kriangkrai received a monk name that translates to “He Who Has Diamond Knowledge”.
Kriangkrai served five years in prison for the theft, but Thai police only recovered and returned some of the gems – and Saudi officials asserted that even those were mostly counterfeits. In any case, the blue diamond, the most valuable of the stolen gems, is still missing.
At one point, local Thai media was abuzz about pictures taken at a charity gala that showed wives of bureaucrats wearing new diamond necklaces that looked similar to ones stolen by Kriangkrai. That fueled suspicions among Saudi authorities that Thai police, along with members of the elite, kept the stolen items for themselves and engaged in a cover-up.
Those suspicions were only compounded when a businessman sent by Saudi Arabia to investigate the case disappeared in Bangkok. Only days before his disappearance, three Saudi diplomats were gunned down, execution style, in the Thai capital.
A senior police officer, Somkid Boonthanom, and four others were eventually charged with the murder of the Saudi businessman. But in a curious twist, the Thai government promoted Somkid as he was facing charges, bumping him from regional police commissioner to assistant national police chief. Predictably, this triggered outrage in Riyadh, and Somkid eventually declined the promotion in a bid to relieve tensions between the countries.
Then in 2014, Bangkok’s Criminal Court dismissed the charges against Somkid and the other defendants over a lack of evidence. Predictably, Saudi Arabia harshly criticized the verdict, calling it “disappointing and unfair.”
Today, Thailand-Saudi Arabia relations remain poor. Riyadh does not retain an ambassador in Bangkok and bans its citizens from visiting Thailand as tourists.