For those of you who are struggling to piece together the background on the current tensions between Thailand and Saudi Arabia, Reuters’ Andrew Marshall has provided an excellent accout. Here are the openning paragraphs:
The curse of the blue diamond has struck Thailand once again.
The tortuous two-decade saga of theft, deception, incompetence, corruption and murder burst back into the spotlight this month, doing renewed damage to Thailand’s economy, its relations with Middle Eastern countries, and prospects for reconciliation in its troubled mainly-Muslim southern provinces.
It is a story that reveals a great deal about the unbridled corruption of the Royal Thai Police, the weakness of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in the face of powerful entrenched vested interests, and the ham-fisted approach of many Thai officials when trying to defuse a crisis.
The tale begins in 1989 when Kriangkrai Techamong, a Thai janitor working in one of the palaces of Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd, snuck into the princess’s bedroom, grabbed a stash of jewellery and gems including a famous blue diamond, hid them in a vacuum cleaner bag, shipped them back to Thailand with DHL and then fled Saudi Arabia. Once back home in Lampang province in northern Thailand he found it difficult to dispose of the haul, and started selling individual items for just a handful of dollars. A jeweller, Santhi Sithanakan, got wind of what was happening and managed to buy most of the gems from Kriangkrai at a fraction of their value.
By this time the Saudi royals had realised they’d been robbed and alerted the Thai authorities. A team of police led by Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes quickly collared Kriangkrai, tracked down Santhi, and announced they had recovered the stolen loot. Kriangkrai was sentenced to seven years in jail; he served three before being released early because he had confessed to the crime. Chalor headed a delegation that flew to Saudi to return the haul to Prince Faisal.
This was when things started to go badly wrong for the reputation of the Royal Thai Police and for Thai-Saudi relations.