Friday, June 30, 2006

Thai cop convicted of stealing stolen Saudi gems

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A top Thai policeman was sentenced to 20 years in jail on Thursday for stealing jewelry stolen from a Saudi palace, a heist which disrupted diplomatic relations, after a trial which spanned 13 years.

Police Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes, sentenced to death in a related case, was found guilty of conspiring with six other officers to steal several pieces of the jewelry worth $20 million a Thai worker stole from a Saudi palace in 1989.

Chalor's team arrested the original thief, Kriangkrai Techamong, in Thailand in 1990 and he was jailed for five years.

But when the jewelry was returned to Riyadh, an outraged Saudi Arabia said only 25 percent of it was genuine.

Relations between the two countries worsened further when a Saudi Arabian businessman close to the Saudi royal family and been assigned to look into the case was abducted and killed.

Three months later, three Saudi Embassy officials were gunned down in Bangkok. The murderers were never found.

Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas for Thais to work in the oil-rich state and declared Bangkok a city too dangerous for its people to visit. Diplomatic missions were downgraded to charge d'affairs level.

Chalor was sentenced to death for ordering the 1994 abduction and murder of the wife and son of a gem trader who bought some jewelry from Kriangkrai.