Sondhi Limthongkul is a lucky man indeed. The controversial media magnate, ally turned nemesis of Thaksin Shinawatra, and founder of the misnamed People’s Alliance for Democracy was apparently left standing after gunmen riddled his van with bullets on 17 April 2009.
At about 5.40am on that day gunmen pulled up beside Sondhi’s van on Samsen Road near the Bank of Thailand and fired for five minutes. Sondhi, his driver and assistant were wounded while a female passenger emerged unscathed, reported The Nation.
Police found 84 shell cases at the scene indicating the use of AK-47, H&K G33 and M16 rifles, plus one unexploded round from an M79 grenade launcher, added The Nation.
Traffic police cameras covering the area went offline the day before while two cameras operated by the city apparently snapped the vehicles but not it seems the attack itself.
The Bangkok Post reported similar details except that the number of spent cases found was nearly 100 while adding that some rounds struck a couple of buses causing no injuries. A photo showed about 30 rounds peppering the front of the van.
Two men stood up from the back of a black pickup truck to shoot at Sonthi’s van said a petrol station attendant reported The Nation on 22 April.
The Bank of Thailand claimed some rounds hit its main building reported The Nation on 23 April. Apparently two shell cases from an AK-47 were found, though where is unclear from the report.
On the 23 April Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda said some of the M16 cartridge cases came from stocks held by the 9th Infantry Division in Kanchanaburi, a few hours from Bangkok.
There were five-to-seven assassins in two pickup trucks said the police on 24 April, reported The Nation. Major General Khattiya Sawasdiphol, popularly known as the colourful maverick Sae Daeng, disputed that the M16 rounds came from the 9th Infantry Division.
Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said it was too early to say the M16 rounds came from army stocks reported the Bangkok Post on 28 April.
Ten gunmen were shooting from 20 metres away from about four trucks said Sondhi, reported The Nation on 3 May.
Meanwhile Thanpuying Viriya Chavakul, lady-in-waiting to queen, denied being the figure Sondhi hinted helped finance the attack, reported the Bangkok Post on 3 May.
Accepting that these reports are accurate in fact and true in intention raises questions.
Is it credible that up to ten gunmen could fire 84 rounds from a range of 20 metres, or less, for up to five minutes yet fail to get all the rounds on to the rather large target?
Is it credible that many high-velocity assault rifle rounds may have missed the van or passed right through without injuring or killing any bystanders, bus passengers or people in nearby buildings?
For so many rounds to miss such a large target at such short range might suggest the gunmen had never fired a rifle until that morning?
Or was it intentional for so many rounds to miss the target?
Yet if it was intentional why did so many rounds hit the van with a great risk that those inside would have been seriously injured or killed?
If assassination was the aim why go to such extravagant lengths with all the risks entailed, why not a couple of guys in dark helmets pulling up on a motorbike with one guy firing a few shots from a pistol into Sondhi’s head?
Might it be that not so many rounds were fired but that the attackers dumped empty cartridge cases at the scene?
Sondhi’s luck must now be the stuff of legend, walking away from so many bullets with not much more than a scratch? Is this credible?
Was anybody in the van at the time of the shooting?
Was it an attempt at assassination or something else?
David Fullbrook is an independent researcher and writer on Asian affairs with public, corporate, and media clients. His website is available here.