Thai officers cleared of killing in Saudi ‘blue diamond’ affair

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 10:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 2:28am


A Thai court yesterday dismissed a case against five former policemen accused of killing a Saudi businessman over a haul of precious gems 24 years ago, a case that marred relations between the two countries.

Bangkok's Criminal Court ruled there was not enough evidence to try the case, known as the "blue diamond" affair.

Saudi Arabia has long suspected official involvement in the 1990 disappearance of businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili and the murders of three members of Saudi Arabia's diplomatic staff in Bangkok. Its government has suggested the slayings were linked to the theft of US$20 million worth of royal jewels from a palace in Riyadh, many of which were never recovered. A large blue diamond is among the stones still missing.

Saudi Arabia downgraded relations with Thailand following the crimes and ties have never fully been restored.

Yesterday's ruling cleared charges against former police lieutenant general Somkid Boonthanom and four other officers. All had been facing charges of premeditated murder and the illegal detention of Ruwaili.

In 2010, the Thai police planned to promote Somkid to be an assistant national police chief, prompting strong criticism from Saudi Arabia, which said the move could jeopardise efforts to restore normal diplomatic relations. Somkid later declined to accept the promotion.

In 1989, US$20 million worth of gems and jewellery were stolen from a Saudi Arabian prince's palace in Riyadh. A Thai worker at the palace was subsequently arrested and jailed for the theft after returning to Thailand.

Some of the gems were recovered and returned by Thai police. But some of the gems sent back to Saudi Arabia turned out to be fake, leading to suspicions that senior police and members of Thailand's power elite kept the loot and ordered a cover-up.

Saudi Arabia sent Ruwaili to Thailand to probe the case in 1990 but he vanished. Days before, three Saudi diplomats were shot execution-style, leading to Saudi suspicions of official involvement by Thai authorities.

Additional reporting by Reuters