Wednesday, 7 Dec 2022

Funeral rites begin for tycoon Vichai

Ministers, celebrities and magnates packed a temple in inner Bangkok yesterday as funeral rites began for Thai tycoon Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter crash in Leicester, England, on Oct 27.

Mourners at the elaborate, royally sponsored funeral spilled over into several sections of Wat Thepsirin, a century-old Buddhist temple. Among them were Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda, as well as Mr Dhanin Chearavanont, senior chairman of Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group.

Also present were rock star Artiwara Kongmalai, better known as “Toon Bodyslam”, and key members of the football fraternity, such as Football Association of Thailand president Somyot Poompanmoung and former head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang.

Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now vying to be re-elected as leader of the Democrat Party, also came to pay his respects.

Mr Vichai, 60, was chairman of Leicester City Football Club and Thai duty-free retailing giant King Power, as well as the fifth-richest man in Thailand, when his helicopter spun out of control near the football stadium and crashed.

Four other people died in the crash. Two of them, Ms Nursara Suknamai and Mr Kaveporn Punpare, were Mr Vichai’s employees. The other two were pilots Eric Swaffer and Izabela Roza Lechowicz, who were also a couple.

Investigators are examining the contents of the flight data recorder recovered from the wreckage.

Mr Vichai, whose duty-free empire has footprints in all major Thai airports, is survived by his wife and four children, all of whom are on the executive board of King Power.

Pictures of the convoy that ferried Mr Vichai’s remains from the airport to Wat Thepsirin were splashed across Thai media yesterday.

The temple, which houses the country’s only permanent royal crematorium, is frequented by Thai elites and was also where Thailand’s former Supreme Patriarch, or most senior monk, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Somdet Phra Sangharaja, was cremated in 2015.

Mr Vichai’s surname means “light of progressive glory”. It was bestowed on him by then King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2012.

For yesterday’s ceremony, reigning King Maha Vajiralongkorn granted a ceremonial tiered umbrella and an octagonal urn.

Wreaths from the palace were also presented to Mr Vichai’s relatives yesterday.

Cremation is expected to take place after 100 days.

Mr Vichai grabbed international attention when the unfancied second-tier Leicester City Football Club he bought in 2010 won the English Premier League title in 2016.

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy told British media that he and his teammates would fly to Thailand to attend Mr Vichai’s funeral after the team’s match against Cardiff City yesterday. The club also gave free breakfasts and special T-shirts paying tribute to Mr Vichai to its supporters attending the match.

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