- Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha praised for promoting ‘Thai values’
- Billionaire’s death in helicopter crash confirmed overnight
As Thailand woke on Monday morning to the confirmation that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the reclusive but beloved billionaire owner of King Power retail and Leicester City football club, had been among the five who died in the helicopter crash outside the stadium, the tributes began pouring in.
Figures in the world of Thai politics, football and even the royal family spoke of a “warm” and “generous” man, who had brought national pride to Thailand in his role as a businessman and as Leicester City chairman.
Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile in Hong Kong, said he was “honoured and blessed to have known Vichai for all these years and am deeply saddened by the loss”, describing him as a “great businessman and loving father”. Vichai had been a close friend and associate of Thaksin’s, even after the former prime minister was ousted from power in 2006 and their relationship was integral to the growth of King Power into a multi-billion dollar retail empire.
Nualphan Lamsam, who manages Thailand’s national women’s football team, sent “thoughts and prayers” to Vichai’s family, while Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjai Thai political party, told local media that he considered Vichai to be like a “big brother”
“He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly,” he said. “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”
Little was known about Vichai, owner of the King Power duty free retail empire, who opened his first shop in 1989 and by 2006 had been given a monopoly over the main Thai airports. Much of his success was credited to his ability to weather Thailand’s turbulent political environment, a rare ally of both Thaksin and the current ruling military junta.
However, it was his purchase of Leicester City in 2010 that pushed Vichai into the public eye. Thailand, a football-loving nation, became as swept up in the club’s remarkable ascendence to Premier League triumph as fans in the UK and prompted swathes of Thais to switch their allegiances from the popular clubs Manchester United and Liverpool to become proud Leicester supporters.
While he mainly shied from the limelight even in his home country, Vichai was particularly respected among Thais for speaking publicly about how “Thai values and Thai culture” were at the heart of how he ran Leicester City.
After their triumphant league win in 2016, Vichai brought the team back to Thailand to show off their trophy to crowds of thousands who gathered in the streets of Bangkok. Chatworachet Sae-Kow, a Leicester City fan in Bangkok, explained how much the success of the club under Vichai’s leadership meant to the country.
“It’s Thailand’s team,” said Chatworachet. “It brought fame to Thailand when they won [the title]. He carried the Thai flag with him and made people know more about Thailand.”
Kawin Thamsatchanan, goalkeeper for the Thai national team who plays for Oud-Heverlee Leuven – the Belgium football club also owned by Vichai – paid a lengthy and personal tribute to the King Power magnate, speaking of the impact he had on his life and thanking him for the opportunity to live out his dream and play football in Europe.
“I could feel your commitment and dedication to what you do, and the warmth and love you had for me,” said Kawin. “Thank you for the opportunity and confidence in me.”
Vichai’s connections to the upper echelons of Thai society were also demonstrated by the personal condolences offered by Thai royal family member, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Bavardi, who said Vichai’s death was a “great loss to the football world”. The eldest daughter of Thaksin also spoke of her disbelief.
“I can’t believe this happened,” Pinthongta Shinawatra said. “He [Vichai] taught me so many things and he’s the one I always respected. Today is the saddest day of my life.”
The Football Association of Thailand released a statement expressing its “profound sadness” at the “sudden and tragic passing” of Vichai. Following the news of the crash on Sunday, the head of the FA Thailand, Somyot Poompanmoung, who was extremely close to Vichai, travelled to the UK.
Four other passengers who died in the crash were named by Leicestershire police as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, both members of Vichai’s staff, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.