Thai king attends cremation of Leicester City owner Vichai

This handout from King Power taken and released on March 21, 2019 shows Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn (R) presiding over the cremation of Leicester City football club's Thai owner and duty-free mogul Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in Bangkok.

Thailand's king presided over the cremation of former Leicester City owner and duty-free magnate Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at a Buddhist temple Thursday in a ceremony that brought together the Thai business and political elites.

This handout from King Power taken and released on March 20, 2019 shows staff and players from Leicester City football club posing in front of a portrait of the club's Thai owner and duty-free mogul Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (back R) during his funeral in Bangkok. The 60-year-old Thai founder of duty-free giant King Power died in October in a helicopter crash after watching his beloved football club play.

His sudden death stunned Thais and football fans who followed his fairytale-like ascent, while also raising questions about the future of his company's near-monopoly over Thailand's duty-free sector.

His weeklong funeral in November had royal sponsorship for three days and King Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over Thursday's cremation rites at Wat Thepsirin, one of Bangkok's oldest temples. Standing on an elevated podium, the king lit the fire for Vichai's crematorium.

Before the king's arrival, Vichai's elder son Apichet entered the temple with a shorn head wearing saffron robes -- following the Buddhist tradition of the eldest son being temporarily ordained after the death of a patriarch.

Leading the rest of the family was youngest son Aiyawatt, better known by his nickname "Top" and the vice chairman of Leicester City, carrying offerings.

More than 40 players and members of Leicester City football club -- including star striker Jamie Vardy, captain Wes Morgan and new manager Brendan Rodgers -- arrived the day before from England to pay their final respects.

Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjaithai Party and a prime ministerial candidate in elections being held on Sunday, stood with Vichai's family, along with former politician-turned-sports mogul Newin Chidchob and national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda.

The well-connected Vichai was Thailand's fifth wealthiest man, and his four children stand to inherit a shopping empire now worth some $5.2 billion according to Forbes.

Leicester team attends owner Vichai's funeral in Bangkok

  • Leicester City's manager Claude Puel (L) and goal keeper Kasper Schmeichel (R) attend the funeral ceremony for Leicester City's Thai owner and duty-free mogul, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at Wat Thepsirin Buddhist temple in Bangkok.
  • Leicester footballers yesterday attended the funeral in Bangkok of their chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a fiery helicopter crash at their home King Power Stadium last Saturday.
  • Leicester footballers yesterday attended the funeral in Bangkok of their chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a fiery helicopter crash at their home King Power Stadium last Saturday.
  • They will go back to England around the middle of this week to prepare for a game with Burnley – their first home game after Vichai’s passing.
  • They left England for Bangkok after an emotional 1-0 win over Cardiff in their first game after the crash that killed two others passengers and two pilots.
  • The footballers were seen walking to a sala inside Debsirindrawas Ratchaworawiharn Temple in Bangkok where the royally sponsored funeral was held.
  • Vichai’s body was flown home on a private jet on Friday and the funeral rites were conducted at the temple while the Abhidhamma Recitation Ceremony will be held every night from yesterday until Friday, three of the nights being royally sponsored. The royally sponsored cremation rites will be confirmed at a later date.
  • During the pre-match warm-up, Leicester players wore T-shirts with an image of Vichai’s face and the words “The Boss”.
  • Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri and coaching staff during a minutes silence as part of remembrance commemorations and in memory of Leicester CIty's Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
  • Players from both sides line up to observe a minute's silence to remember the victims of the Leicester City helicopter crash which killed Leicester City Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, before the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge in London on November 4, 2018.
  • Leicester players and backroom staff lined up around the centre circle for a minute’s silence with the Cardiff team after the laying of wreaths, while fans of both teams unfurled their banners.
  • The Leicester City footballers travelled to Bangkok after Saturday’s game to attend Vichai’s funeral. Dane Schmeichel said: “Everyone grieves in different ways and the opportunity was given [to go for the funeral] and we wanted to go. We are a family and wanted to pay our last respects together."
  • “It was nice to get a win to take to Thailand now and hopefully we did his family proud,” Schmeichel added. “You couldn’t ask for a better chairman. There are few people who come along in this life that have an impact on you. He had that on me and so many people, and the outpouring of grief around the world shows that,” he said, according to the BBC.

His company's rapid rise from a single downtown Bangkok store to commanding a near monopoly in the country's airports can be attributed more to Vichai's knack for winning -- and keeping -- the favour of Thailand's elite.

This includes the monarchy, whose links to him were reflected in the name of his company and the former king's act of royally bestowing a surname which translates to "auspicious and prosperous light".

But in recent weeks, state-owned Airports of Thailand (AoT) is facing intense pressure to break up the monopoly after King Power's hold on it ends in 2020, and a bidding auction is to start this year. Following outcry from rivals calling for the concession to be split up among different companies, Thailand's junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged AoT to find "a suitable process to be fair".

On Monday, an AoT official told AFP it would postpone the release of its terms of reference for the bidding, and would "open for more recommendations comply with the government". Thailand's Mall Group, shopping empire Central Group -- both backed by billionaires -- are eyeing entry into duty-free while South Korean giant Lotte is also in the hunt.