Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Two decades later, and still no answers to Saudi Jewel Murder Mystery

Two decades later, and still no answers to Saudi Jewel Murder Mystery: "This is the second part in a series on the Saudi Jewel Murder Mystery. For the first part see Why the Face of Saudi Labor isn't Thai.

When Saudi canceled the work visas of so many Thai laborers, the impact on the Thai economy was huge – some estimate nearly USD 14 billion in remittance alone was lost in just three years. (To put that into perspective, Thailand’s entire budget in 1994 was just USD 28.4 billion!).

Lost tourism dollars also had an impact as the number of Saudi tourists to Thailand nosedived from an estimated 55,000 in 1988 to just 3,000 in 1992.

And still there were no leads on who’d murdered the Saudis or where the real gems – including the Blue Diamond – were.

In August 1994, gem dealer Santi Sithanakan, the man police claimed had stolen the real gems and replaced them with fakes, was kidnapped by police and tortured.

Two weeks later his wife and son were murdered in what was apparently a ransom-gone-wrong. Thai officials insisted the murders were a car accident. Saudi charge d’affiars Mohammed Said Khoja suspected otherwise.

In fact, he suspected the Thai police were behind the whole thing – the murders of the Saudis, the murder of the gem dealer’s family and the missing jewels. And he was relentless.

By September of that year, a stunning 18 members of the Royal Thai Police – a group many inside Thai considered the “largest criminal organization in Thailand – were under investigation, dismissed or arrested. Among them were Police Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthe and Major Thanee Sridokaub.

That was the fall of 1994.

Eight years later in 2002, both men were found guilty of kidnapping Sithanakan.

Four year after that, Kerdthe was found guilty of the murders of the gem dealer’s family, and he and six other Thai Royal Police officers were found guilty of stealing the stolen gems. He was sentenced to death, a sentence never carried out, however.

But of course, the story didn’t end there.

Where were the gems, including the 50-carat blue diamond, and who murdered the Saudis?

Three years ago, with the statute of limitations on the case just around the corner in early 2010, the Thai economy in desperate need of Saudi riyals, and Saudi still adamant that no normalization would occur until the murders were solved and the gems returned - the mystery began getting more attention again– both in Thailand and here in Saudi.

In September of 2006 the Thai Department of Special Investigations reopened the cases, stressing that no police authorities would be involved.

In the spring of 2008, Kerdthe spoke from prison saying he’d take the witness stand if called. (It’s thought that in doing so, he would incriminate high-level Thai officials and politicians, one reason the Thai government hasn’t taken him up on his offer all these years.)

Finally in August of this year, nearly 20 years after the royal jewels were stolen and the Saudis were murdered, the Thai government announced they had a suspect in one of the murders, and a multitude of theories about the others and the jewel heist.

The suspect was an Arab man named Abu Ali, a name which even Thai officials admitted might be an alias (ya think?!). His whereabouts, of course, were unknown. Even his connection to the case seemed a bit iffy. Hey, but, after two decades of looking, at least they had a suspect.

Conspiracy theories provided by investigators in Thailand were and are, of course, just as “solid”, pointing the finger of blame for the murders and the missing gems anywhere but back at themselves.
“The police listed three possible motives for the killings: a conflict of interest over sending Thai workers to Saudi Arabia, the illegal export of marijuana, sandalwood and oil to Saudi Arabia through the abuse of diplomatic immunity privileges, and a conflict among mafia-type gangs in Pattaya.”

Unofficial theories are also floating around out there.

One holds that Saudi will soon be “softening” toward Thailand because of increased trade and friendliness between Iran and Thailand, whether or not the murders and the gem scandal are ever resolved.

And another – ok so a lot – claim that the gems, including the Blue Diamond – are still seen regularly at Thai functions, worn by the wife of a prominent politician as well as others, and that other, smaller pieces of the royal jewels have been handed out as gifts among the Thai elite over the years. (There are also apparently several YouTube videos out there proving these claims, but for the life of me I couldn't find them.)

What's a good mystery without a few tantalizing conspiracy theories?

Anyway, after twenty years, the clock is finally ticking down on this mystery, and it will be interesting to watch whether or not things heat up in the coming weeks and months as the deadline draws near.

Who knows, there might even be an ending to this fascinating mystery - tho even the most optimistic followers believe any true suspects won't be found until it's too late. And perhaps, it already is.

So, whodunit?

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