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The Man Who Stole a 50-Carat Diamond Is Now a Thai Monk. No, Seriously.

After 25 years of intrigue, authorities investigating the “Blue Diamond Affair” are no closer to recovering the massive stone. Can this monk help?

WAT DHAMMAKAYA, BANGKOK, THAILAND - 2011/03/29: The faithful gather during a mass Buddhist ordination ceremony.  More than 20,000 Buddhist novice monks gathered to offer prayers for world peace.  In Thailand men are expected to become a Buddhist monk at least once in their life. (Photo by )
WAT DHAMMAKAYA, BANGKOK, THAILAND - 2011/03/29: The faithful gather during a mass Buddhist ordination ceremony. More than 20,000 Buddhist novice monks gathered to offer prayers for world peace. In Thailand men are expected to become a Buddhist monk at least once in their life. (Photo by )

One night in 1989, a Thai worker tending the palatial gardens of a Saudi prince sneaked into a second-story bedroom to bust open the family safe and make off with a trove of jewels that included one of the most valuable stones in the world: a gleaming 50-carat blue diamond larger than the Hope Diamond and worth millions of dollars. 

More than 25 years later, after multiple kidnappings, ransoms, and murders, the diamond is still missing. The thief, Kriangkrai Techamong, confessed to the crime in 1989 and received a prison sentence of seven years. In a strange twist, he’s decided to seek repentance at a Buddhist monastery in Lampang, Thailand. On Thursday, Kriangkrai’s surprising new life was on full display when he marched in an ordination ceremony for new monks, wearing white robes and sporting a shaved head.

“I am confident that all my misfortunes are the result of a curse from the Saudi diamond I stole, so I’ve decided to enter the monkhood for the rest of my life to redeem my bad karma,” Kriangkrai told the national daily Thairath.

But for all the “bad karma” that has befallen the thief, Kriangkrai, who left Riyadh before the prince could identify him to authorities, has walked away from the “Blue Diamond Affair” largely unscathed.

He managed to get off on a reduced prison sentence of only three years after leading police to the Thai jeweler who bought the precious gem, along with dozens of comparatively lesser stones, which weighed a total of some 200 pounds and, in the words of a former Saudi diplomat, included “rubies the size of chicken eggs.”

But when Thailand returned the jewels, the Saudis quickly discovered that half were fakes — including the blue diamond.

The kingdom’s troubles in reclaiming its stolen treasure only worsened after that: Three Saudi diplomats sent to Bangkok in 1990 to track down the missing gems were soon killed in a coordinated assassination and a fourth royal adviser disappeared a month later, presumed dead.

The murder cases remain unsolved. A 2010 U.S. State Department cable suspected that Hezbollah was “almost certainly” involved in the killings for reasons unrelated to the heist, but Saudi Arabia has accused the Thai police of complicity.

“The police here are bigger than the government itself,” Mohammed Said Khoja, a Saudi diplomat investigating the case, told The New York Times in 1994. “I am a Muslim, and I stay because I feel I am fighting the devils.”

In response, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador, barred Saudis from visiting Thailand, stopped issuing work visas to the country, and deported roughly 200,000 Thai workers. The moves cost Thailand billions of dollars in lost remittances.

And relations between the two appear to have further deteriorated since then, with Saudi Arabia recalling its charge d’affaires in June 2014 after Thailand acquitted five police officers in the disappearance of the royal advisor stationed in Bangkok.

A press officer from the Saudi embassy told FP in an email that “Saudi-Thai relations remain strained,” and that the case of the murdered Saudis and the missing stone is still open.

But there’s one person who might know more than what he has told investigators.

According to a local Thai television station, Kriangkrai’s new name as a Buddhist monk translates to “He Who Has Diamond Knowledge.”

Photo credit: DAVID LONGSTREATH/LightRocket via Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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