The first victim of the crime is, today, the king of Saudi Arabia. Others were not so lucky. By one estimate, at least 17 people have died as a result of the theft of the blue diamond, leading superstitious Thais to believe the diamond is cursed.
That's not all. Because of the "Blue Diamond Affair" Thais were prohibited from visiting Saudi Arabia for a generation and the number of Thai workers in Saudi Arabia declined from nearly a quarter million to only 10,000, costing the Thai economy an estimated
The New York Times once called it "the biggest scandal in the history of the Thai national police."
Today came the latest installment in this twenty-year saga. Before we get to that -- and in order to illustrate why the latest news out of Bangkok makes no sense -- I drew up this timeline.
Jotman's Blue Diamond Affair Timeline
1989 (Jan 1) - Bangkok Post (here) incorrectly provides this date for murder of Maliki. Moreover, the article incorrectly identifies Maliki as a Saudi "businessman."
1989 (Jan. 4) - Saleh Abdullah al-Maliki, the third secretary at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, was shot to death by an unknown gunman while walking to his residence on a Bangkok street. According to the NY Times, "Two factions, the Soldiers of Justice and the Holy War Organization in Hejaz [al-Hijaz Islamic Jihad], have claimed responsibility for the murder of Salah Abdullah al-Maliki." [FDI lists this event as a possible Iranian hit squad murder]
1989 (Feb 1) - Bangkok Post (here) provides this date for some of the murders. This appears to be incorrect.
1989 (Jun 20-Aug 8) - Kriangkrai Techamong, a Thai worker steals 200 lbs of jewels from Riyadh palace of Saudi Crown Prince Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz al Saud, the son of King Fahd. Among the stolen gems was a rare blue diamond. The theft amounted to US$20 million.
---- - Kriangkrai packed loot in boxes and sent it to relatives in Thailand by DHL parcel post.
----- - Kriangkrai returns to Thailand and stashes loot at his home in Lampang (in the north of Thailand). Kriangkrai buried some of his loot on the farm and started selling items individually for $30 apiece.
---- - owner of a large Thai jewelery business, Santi Sithanakan, thought to have purchased most of the gems from Kriangkrai.
----- - Al-Besri and the three others- two diplomats (Albahli & Alsaif) and a private citizen (al-Ruwaili) - are assigned by Saudi Arabia to look into the highly publicised Saudi diamond scandal.
1990 (Jan 10) - Kriangkrai arrested in Mae Sot. An investigation led by Police Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes led both to the arrest of Kriangkrai and the recovery of many of the jewels.
1990 (Feb 1) - Saudi diplomat Adbullah A al-Besri, the consul, is killed in Bangkok. Ten minutes later, two more Saudi diplomats -- Fahad AZ Albahli, an attaché, and Ahmed A Alsaif, a telex operator -- are also assassinated in Bangkok. According to an Iranian dissidents group FDI, "The three Saudis are suspected intelligence agents." [FDI lists this event as a possible Iranian hit squad murder]
1990 (Feb 12) - Last sighting of Saudi businessman Mohammed al-Ruwaili, who is thought to have known who had stolen the jewelry. Mr. al-Ruwaili is seen in a car with Saudi consul Abdullah al-Besri (Note: either this date or this claim about al-Ruwaili "last" being seen in a car with al-Besri must be incorrect.) Clock begins ticking on 20-year "statute of limitations on investigations" into his murder.
1990 (Feb 14) - Saudi businessman, Mohammed al- Ruwaili, disappears.
1990 (March) - police handed over the jewels to Saudi Arabia in a public ceremony.
1990 - Saudis discover 80% of the returned jewels are fake. The Thai police are the prime suspects.
1990 - Saudis downgrade diplomatic relations with Thailand. They dispatch "a tough-talking, gun-toting" charge d'affairs, Mohammed Said Khoja, to Thailand to retrieve the family jewels. Khoja believes that the man responsible for the imitations is jeweler Santi. 'He is the one who changed the genuine stones for the fakes,' he says. 'He is the key.' Concerning the killings, "Khoja will not go into details, but says all four were in some way involved with the attempt to regain the jewels, and claims that they were killed because they had important information. A Thai policeman was also killed. The police denied that the murder was linked with the jewels but they promised to step up their investigations."
------ - "Saudis became convinced that the Thai police were involved in a huge cover-up, that the jewels had been distributed among some influential people at the top of Thai society."
----- - "At a gala dinner in Bangkok soon after the incident, wives of the Thai generals and leading politicians fiercely competed in showing off their jewelry. The Thai newspapers' photographers caught pictures showing diamond necklaces belonging to the Saudi royal family. The pictures were shown to Saudi officials who also confirmed its similarity. The Thai ladies, however, denied their authenticity." (Another?) sighting of the jewels is alleged to have occured at a Red Cross event (date unspecified).
1991 (Jun) - "after unrelenting pressure from Riyadh, the Thai police reopened the case, miraculously discovered some of the jewels - albeit a fraction of the total hoard - and charged four civilians with receiving stolen property. Jewels worth pounds 75,000 were returned."
----- - To protest inaction on the case, Saudi Arabia cuts off work permits to more than 250,000 Thai guest workers.
1994 (Aug) - Santi Sithanakan is kidnapped and tortured by police on orders of Chalor.
1994 (Aug) - Two weeks later, wife and 14-year-old son of Santi Sithanakan, now the government's principal witness found dead, bloodied and beaten, in their Mercedes outside Bangkok. Thai police forensic officers put the death down to a road accident, but they had clearly been murdered. "The forensic commander thinks we're stupid," Saudi diplomat Khoja tells reporters.
----- - The witness, Bangkok jeweler Santi Sithanakan, goes into hiding. He is believed to have tried to pay a randsom for his family, but obviously something went wrong.
---- (Sep) - two police generals (of the 18 police officers implicated in the gems case) are dismissed.
1994 - The thief, Kriangkrai Techamong, is free. "He was released after serving two years and seven months for handling stolen goods after receiving two royal pardons."
1995 - 13 year-long trial of Chalor Kerdthes begins. Initially he is convicted of ordering the murder of the wife and son of the gem dealer in Aug 1994. He is sentenced to death (but the sentence is not carried out). It is revealed that four men admitted committing the murders on police orders. They had demanded a ransom of $2.5 million from the jeweler.
2001 - Police Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes, still in jail, has formed a rock group and produced his own version of Jailhouse Rock. He claims to be innocent.
2002 - "Police Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes, 64, the man charged with investigating the theft by the migrant worker and with returning the jewels to their owner, Prince Faisal bin Abdul Raish, was jailed for seven years, the newspaper reported. Major Thanee Sridokaub, 45, received the same sentence. Both were found guilty of kidnapping a Thai jeweler who was handling the stolen gems.Chalor faces further charges of collaborating in the murder of the jeweler's wife and 14-year-old son after a ransom demand of $2.5 million was not met, the newspaper reported. Instead of attempting to solve the case, Thai police saw riches in it for themselves, the criminal court in Bangkok had been told."
2004 - The Department of Special Investigations (DSI) which is under the Justice Ministry, takes over investigation into the Saudi murders from the Thai police.DIS
2006 (Jun) - Chalor Kerdthes sentenced to 20 years for stealing the recovered jewellery. Six other officers found guilty.
2007 (Sep) - new DSI team of investigators launched. It is under Army Colonel Piyawat Gingkaet. No former police have been appointed to the team.
2008 (Mar) - Foreign minister Noppadon declares Thailand's intention to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, which will be possible once the Blue Diamond case is wrapped up.
---- (Mar) - "Two Muslim experts" who have a good relationship with Saudi Arabia appointed to serve as advisors to DSI investigators in charge of the cases.
---- (Apr) - Thai Justice minister Sompong Amornwiwat visits Chalor Kerdthes in jail. It was suspected that he could implicate some former police chiefs.
---- (May) - Kriangkrai -- the thief -- is now living in a small wooden house. It's not entirely clear where he got the money to buy a new tractor.
---- (fall?) - SDI Director Thawee reports that 90 percent of the investigation has been completed.
2009 (Jan) - Thai charge d'affaires to Saudi Arabia speaks of "renewed effort" by Abhisit government to "normalize diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia by resolving the Blue Diamond theft case, the murder of three Saudi diplomats in 1989 and the case of the disappearance of a Saudi businessman in 1990."
---- (Aug) - SDI decides there is enough evidence to charge Abu Ali who is suspected of shooting Abdullah AAl-Besri, the first of three Saudi diplomats shot to death on Feb 1, 1990.
2010 (Jan 10) - Office of the Attorney General (OAG) indictes Somkid Boonthanom, chief Police Region 5, plus 4 active and former police officers in connection with the disappearance of Mohammad al-Ruwaili, presumed dead since 1990.
2010 (Feb 12) - The statute of limitations expires on investigations into the killings.
2012 (Mar 29) - Scheduled first hearing in the trial of Somkid and 4 other officers charged on Jan 10, 2009.
Concerning the most recent report, if you thought the Saudi diplomats had been killed to prevent them from pursuing the investigation, you would be mistaken, according to the DSI investigators-- more on that here.
In another post, I look at factors influencing the future of Thailand's relations with Saudi Arabia.
Sources: Wikipedia, NY Times, TVNZ, 2Thailand, Economist, Thailand q and a, Bangkok Post, Diamond Timelines, The Nation, Zawya, Independent, JCK Online, Teak Door, Seattle Times, Death Penalty News, Gulf Times, Digital Journal, MCOT.net, APMRN