German teenagers who shot toy gun at Thai king spark diplomatic incident

A 14-year-old boy is being investigated for attempted criminal assault after shooting at king’s entourage with non-lethal weapon

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun watches the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand
King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun at the annual royal ploughing ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
  in Berlin  @philipoltermann

The assassins ambushed the king at nightfall and fired their shots as the royal’s entourage passed in front of their lair.

As the shooters were 13 and 14 years old, and their weapon of choice an airsoft gun loaded with plastic pellets, the incident that took place in a suburb of Munich on 10 June is unlikely to have consequences as historic as the ambush of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

But since their accidental target happened to be the King of Thailand – whose colourful social life the country’s military junta has been eager to cover up while it continues to mourn the passing of his father – the teenagers’ mischief may have amounted to a diplomatic incident.

According to German media reports of the incident, which emerged this week, the king and his bodyguards continued on their way after being shot at, but police were alerted to the incident an hour later “via official channels”.

The Bavarian state prosecutor in Landshut is now investigating the 14-year-old for attempted criminal assault. The 13-year-old is below the age of criminal responsibility.

Prosecutor Thomas Rauscher has played down the incident, telling Der Spiegel that no one was hurt during the toygun shootout, and the Thai royal was most likely not even hit as he passed through the city of Erding at the end of a bike tour.

A spokesperson for the state prosecutor later insisted the child was not being investigated just because the attempted assault was on a monarch.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, who resides in a villa on Lake Starnberg in south-west Munich, has struggled to stay off the front pages since his father Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away last October.

German tabloid Bild has published photographs of the 64-year-old wearing a crop-top and low-slung jeans while shopping, as well as pictures of the king being served lunch by kneeling staff on a cycling tour in the Upper Bavarian countryside.

Local media have taken to likening Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has seven children from three marriages, to Ludwig II, the eccentric 19th-century ruler of Bavaria who built the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein.

Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws forbid reports on the royal family’s private life, and videos or articles reporting on the new king’s luxury lifestyle have been blocked in the country. In May this year Thai authorities announced it would take legal action against Facebook over 131 posts it regarded as critical of the crown, but later appeared to back off its threat.

The late king Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign had given Thailand a degree of continuity over seven decades of political instability and after the May 2014 military coup, the palace was the only part of Thai society the military junta declined to claim control over.

However, the king’s death and reports about the playboy-like behaviour of his successor now pose a threat to the current regime’s legitimacy.

Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was educated at Millfield boarding school in Somerset and underwent military training in Australia, has for decades been a regular visitor to Munich, where he reportedly visits local clinics for regular medical check-ups.

The crown prince used to stay at Munich’s luxury Kempinski hotel, in which Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau used to own a majority share, until he bought a listed villa for a reported €10m (£8.8m) in the Tutzing municipality last July.

The new Thai king’s wealth could become the source of further diplomatic headaches in the future. Since Maha Vajiralongkorn was a resident of Bavaria at the time of his father’s death, he would be due to pay inheritance tax on the personal wealth passed down from Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Bavaria’s finance ministry has declined to comment on the issue, citing tax secrecy.

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