Thai prosecutors to issue arrest warrant for Red Bull heir

BANGKOK - Thai prosecutors will issue an arrest warrant for an heir of the Red Bull energy drink creator who failed to show up to hear charges against him in a fatal hit-and-run case that sparked nationwide outrage.

Vorayuth Yoovidhya, 28, is accused of being behind the wheel of his Ferrari sports car when it collided with an on-duty policeman in the early hours of Sept 3 last year.

"Investigators will issue an arrest warrant for the suspect tomorrow, and he can be arrested anywhere in Thailand," said Mr Reuchai Krairerk, a senior public prosecutor at the Bangkok South Criminal Court.

Vorayuth faces charges of causing death through reckless driving and failing to stop and assist the victim. An additional charge for speeding was dropped as the legal time frame within which to press the charge expires on Tuesday. Vorayuth, nicknamed "Boss", left Thailand on Thursday for a business trip, according to his lawyer, and was unable to travel back to hear the charges against him.

"He suddenly fell ill, which made it impossible for him to travel back today," said lawyer Tanit Buakeaw, adding that Vorayuth planned to return to Thailand within three days and would cooperate with prosecutors.

The Yoovidhyas, ranked Thailand's fourth-richest family in 2013 by Forbes magazine, paid the victim's family US$97,000 (S$123,000) after the accident, police said.

The case prompted a backlash in online forums where people questioned the justice system and its leniency towards those with money and connections. Some asked why Thais turn a blind eye to the practice of handing out a so-called funeral fee or hush money in return for families agreeing to drop civil suits.

Vorayuth is the grandson of the late Chaleo Yoovidhya, who rose from poverty to become one of Thailand's richest men. Mr Chaleo formulated an energy drink called Krathing Daeng, or Red Bull, that proved popular among labourers and in 1987 he went into business with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz who helped turn Red Bull into the world's most popular energy drink.

Mr Chaleo, who died in March last year, left his heirs a 49 per-cent stake in the drinks brand.