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Vichai son vows to press on with Leicester City owner’s ‘big mission’

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Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) says he is “touched” by the outpouring of tributes for his father Vichai, the late owner of Leicester City © AFP / Paul ELLIS

BANGKOK, Thailand, Oct 31 – The youngest son of Leicester City’s late Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha issued a heartfelt message of thanks Wednesday for the cascade of condolences that followed his father’s death in a helicopter crash, vowing to “carry on his big vision”.

Vichai, 60, was Thailand’s fifth-richest man when he died in the horrific accident after watching his team play on Saturday.

He made billions from his King Power duty-free monopoly in Thailand, using the cash to invest in hotels, horses and Leicester’s once-unremarkable football club, which shocked the sporting world by winning the Premier League in 2016.

In the first public reaction from the family, Aiyawatt — better known by his nickname “Top” — thanked people for the messages of support from across the world.

“I’m extremely proud to have such an extraordinary father,” he said in an Instagram post shared by King Power’s press office.

“I’m touched by how many people kept him close to their hearts.”

Vichai leaves behind a wife, and four children, two sons and two daughters. All five are on the executive board of King Power.

But Top — already vice-chairman of Leicester — appeared to confirm he has been anointed to lead at least parts of the King Power empire.

“He (Vichai) has left me with a legacy to continue and I will do everything I can to carry on his big vision and dreams,” the post said.

“From him I have received a very big mission and legacy to pass on… and I intend to do just that.”

The post was accompanied by several photos of the pair embracing, one with Top kissing his father on the cheek and another presenting a polo trophy to his father. Both shared a love for the equestrian sport.

Leicester City also published a statement from Top on their website in which he thanked “everyone from the bottom of my heart”, including the emergency services.

“For a long time, my father taught me to be strong and to take care of my family,” he said. “He loved his family. He made Leicester City into a family. And nothing would make him prouder than to see how the Leicester City family that he built is supporting each other through a time of such sadness.”

“I miss you dad, with all of my heart,” he added.

– Shopping empire –

Over three decades Vichai chiselled out a shopping empire now worth about $4.9 billion, according to Forbes, with his initial success owing less to family wealth than a knack for winning — and then keeping — the favour of the Thai elite, gatekeepers to the kingdom’s wealth.

That included the monarchy, in honour of whom he named his company and whose former king rewarded him with his lengthy royally bestowed surname that translates as “auspicious and prosperous light”.

But the duty-free business that has been such a cash cow for King Power is now under threat.

It is likely to face a serious challenge to its monopoly on duty-free at Thailand’s main international airports when its licence comes up for review later this year.

Its concession for Bangkok’s biggest airport is due to expire in 2020, potentially opening up the company to competition for the first time in 14 years.

Top and his mother, Vichai’s wife Aimon, paid a tearful visit to the King Power stadium this week, laying a wreath in the centre of the pitch and hugging club executives and players — with Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel among those most visibly moved.

The pair were fulcrums of Leicester’s 2016 title-winning side, one of sport’s most unlikely underdog victories dynamised by Vichai’s massive investment and shrewd decision-making.

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