BANGKOK, Nov. 22 -- Thai Foreign Minister Thaksin Shinawatra blasted Saudi Arabia's top diplomat in Thailand on Tuesday for demanding the prompt return of jewels stolen by a Thai thief from the Saudi royal family. In the latest in a series of public statements that have strained Thai-Saudi relations nearly to the breaking point, Thaksin angrily attacked Saudi Charge d'Affaires Mohammed Said Khoja for stating the minimum amount of jewelry his government would be willing to accept to close the five-year-old case. 'I don't like the way Charge d'Affaires Khoja has criticized Thailand,' Thaksin said. 'He has no right to demand. We have done our best. He has no right to demand, this is Thailand. This is not his country.' The estimated $20 million worth of jewelry was stolen from the Riyadh palace of Prince Faisal Binh Abdul Ra-ish in 1989 by a Thai servant, Kriangkrai Techamong. Kriangkrai was caught soon after he spirited the jewels back to Thailand and was sentenced to three years in jail, but the bulk of the gems disappeared while in Thai police custody. At a meeting with police investigators Monday in the northern province of Lampang, Kriangkrai was quoted as saying he refused to return to Saudi Arabia to re-enact the crime as requested by Saudi authorities. Kriangkrai was freed after completing his prison term two years ago, but has complained that he is constantly hounded by news reporters and a series of police investigating committees. Khoja, who was sent to Thailand by the Saudi royal family specifically to solve the gems case, said the return of several of the missing pieces of jewelry recently have made him more optimistic that the divisive issue can soon be resolved.
Two lots of jewelry were sent anonymously to police in the past three weeks. Khoja and independent jewelry experts verified that the returned items were genuine. Local news reports quoted the Saudi diplomat as saying his government would be satisfied if 100 pieces of jewelry were returned. Khoja said his country was particularly anxious to receive a large blue diamond that was believed to be the most valuable item stolen. 'We are reaching the final chapter,' Khoja said in a televised interview. 'I have a strong feeling that the person who has the blue diamond will return it very soon. He will return it quietly because he is a wise man.' Khoja said the jewels, especially the prized blue diamond, were 'cursed' and would bring misfortune to anyone holding them. He said intense police and media interest in the case would make the jewelry impossible for middlemen to resell. 'They know these pieces are useless to them. They cannot sell them. They cannot wear them,' Khoja said. 'Within a week or two...no more than one month, I have a feeling the Saudi jewelry file will be closed.'