Blue Diamond Affair
The Blue Diamond Affair was a series of events triggered by the 1989 theft of gems belonging to the Saudi royal family by a Thai employee. The affair has soured relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand for more than 20 years.
Theft and recovery
In 1989, Kriangkrai Techamong, a Thai worker, stole jewellery and other valuable gems from the palace of Prince Faisal bin Fahd, where he was employed as a janitor. Kriangkrai had access to the prince's bedroom and hid the stolen jewellery in a vacuum cleaner bag at the palace. It included a valuable blue diamond and other gems, which Kriangkrai shipped back to his home in Lampang province, Thailand.
An investigation launched by a team from the Royal Thai Police, headed by Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes, led to the arrest of Kriangkrai and recovery of most of the stolen jewellery. Kriangkai was sentenced to seven years in prison, but he was released after three years because he confessed to the crime.
The team of Royal Thai policemen under Lieutenant-General Chalor flew to Saudi Arabia to return the stolen jewellery, but the Saudi Arabian authorities discovered that about half of it was fake and the blue diamond was missing.
Mohammad al-Ruwaili, a Saudi Arabian businessman close to the Saudi royal family, travelled to Bangkok to investigate, but he was abducted and murdered. Three months later, three officials from the Saudi Embassy were also shot dead in Bangkok. The murders remain unsolved.
Lieutenant-General Chalor was later charged and convicted of ordering the 1995 murder of the wife and son of a gem dealer involved in the affair, and was sentenced to death. The supreme court upheld the ruling and sentenced Lieutenant-General Chalor to death on 16 October 2009. Six other policemen were also found guilty of involvement in the murders. However, Chalor's sentence was reduced to fifty years imprisonment by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 84th birthday.
Following the murders, Saudi Arabia stopped issuing working visas for Thais and discouraged its citizens from visiting Bangkok. Diplomatic missions were downgraded to the chargé d'affaires level. The number of Thai working in Saudi Arabia fell from over 150,000 in 1989 to just 10,000 in 2006.
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- The Economist: A law unto themselves
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