Thai-Saudi row eases after top cop declines job

Tension between Thailand and Saudi Arabia eased after a Thai policeman charged in connection with the 1990 disappearance of a Saudi businessman declined a promotion.

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Published: Wed 22 Sep 2010, 5:40 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:38 AM

Lieutenant General Somkid Boonthanom declined the post of assistant national police chief after intense lobbying by Saudi diplomats who have demanded Thailand find those responsible for a jewellery theft and the murder of at least three Saudis.

Ties between the two countries were downgraded two decades ago over the theft of 90 kg of jewels worth $20 million by a Thai janitor from a palace in Riyadh. Some of the gems, including a rare blue diamond, have yet to be recovered.

The theft led to the assassination of three Saudi diplomatic staff in Bangkok in a single night, the kidnap and murder of a Thai jeweller’s wife and child, and the disappearance of businessman Mohammad Al Ruwaili, who witnessed one of the shootings.

The Thai attorney general’s office filed charges of premeditated murder and illegal detention against Somkid and four others in January, less than a month before the statute of limitations on the case would have ended.

The attempt to promote Somkid, seen as close to the ruling Democrat Party, angered Saudi diplomats, who urged the Thai authorities to uncover ‘these shocking, terrorising and horrible crimes’ in an increasingly public diplomatic row.

Somkid said he declined the promotion in the interests of diplomacy and of Thai Muslims concerned they would be denied visas for the annual Haj pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Makkah.

‘These factors are more important than my career advancement,’ Somkid told a news conference in northern city of Chiang Mai, where he is based. He would clear his name when the trial of him and four other policemen started in November, he said.

Thailand has long sought to normalise ties with the oil-rich Kingdom after a dispute that has cost billions of dollars in two-way trade and tourism and denied employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia to hundreds of thousands of Thai migrant workers.

But questions remain about the whereabouts of the famous blue diamond and why successive Thai governments and police have been unable to trace it, or bring the killers of the three Saudi embassy staff to justice.

In 1994, then Saudi Charge d’Affaires Mohammed Said Khoja said in a dinner speech that the murdered Saudis were ‘silenced’ and he believed the blue diamond would be returned if the person who possessed it was assured they would not be humiliated.

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