Royal honour for Leicester City owner at funeral in Thailand

The funeral began at a Bangkok temple with a Buddhist bathing rite using water bestowed by the Thai king.

    Guests on the first day of Vichai's funeral included top government officials, businessmen and other public figures [Jorge Silva/Reuters]
    Guests on the first day of Vichai's funeral included top government officials, businessmen and other public figures [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

    An elaborate funeral is under way for Thai billionaire and Leicester City owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who, along with four others, was killed last Saturday in a helicopter crash.

    The royally-sponsored funeral began on Saturday at a temple in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, where mourners included top government officials, businessmen and other public figures. 

    The funeral began with a bathing ritual using royally-bestowed water and an eight-sided urn lent as an honour by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

    The grounds of the Wat Thepsirin temple were heavily guarded by scores of security officers. White sheets were lowered to block outsiders and media from viewing the proceedings.

    Vichai's body was flown to Thailand on Friday in advance of the official ceremony, which lasts until November 9. The body will be preserved for 100 days before being cremated. 

    Most of Leicester City players plan to travel to Bangkok for the funeral after their match with Cardiff City on Saturday.

    "It's a very difficult time for his family and I'm here to show support," said Kiattisak Senamuang, a former Thai national football team coach and player.

    "May Vichai rest in peace," he said.

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    Vichai, 60, died on October 27, when his helicopter crashed outside Leicester City's King Power Stadium shortly after the end of a match.

    Two staff members, Nusara Suknamai, Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and his partner Izabela Roza Lechowicz were also killed in the incident.

    The UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is investigating the cause of the crash.

    Devout Buddhist loved by fans

    Vichai helped Leicester beat 5,000-to-1 odds to claim Premier League victory in 2016 [File: Andrew Boyers/Reuters]

    Tributes were also paid to Vichai and the others killed in the crash at Saturday's match in Wales, where a wreath was laid and a minute's silence was observed. 

    A devout Buddhist, Vichai had monks regularly bless the King Power Stadium for good luck. 

    Vichai was hugely popular with fans of the previously unfancied side from central England, which went on to stun the football world by winning the league title in 2016.

    He pumped millions of pounds into the club, helping to steer them to Premier League victory despite having started the season as 5,000-to-1 outsiders.

    Following the win, Vichai gifted each of the 19 players a BMWi8 car.

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    A self-made businessman and father of four, Vichai founded his company King Power in 1989.

    The duty-free business got a boost in 2006 when it was granted an airport monopoly under the government of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    According to Forbes magazine, Vichai was the fifth-richest person in Thailand with an estimated net worth of $4.9bn.

    In 2012, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand bestowed Vichai - originally called Raksriaksorn - with the new surname "Srivaddhanaprabha", meaning "light of progressive glory" in the Thai language, as a royal honour.

    An avid polo player, Vichai's empire also includes the VR Polo Club in Bangkok. In May 2017, he bought Belgian football club, Oud-Heverlee Leuven. 

    Vichai was popular with the club's fans and was a familiar face at matches [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies