Thai celebrity bike racer denies link to Lao drug lord

Thai celebrity bike racer denies link to Lao drug lord
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

Motorbike racing star Akarakit "Benz Racing" Worarojcharoendet has denied any involvement with alleged Laotian drug kingpin Xaysana Keopimpa.

The denial came as the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) asked relevant agencies to investigate Akarakit's bank transactions in response to his claim he borrowed Bt6 million (S$241,370) from a friend for a down payment on a Bt20 million Lamborghini sports car.

Police linked Akarakit to Xaysana through the Lamborghini Gallardo SuperLeggera.

Read also: Alleged Lao drug lord's Facebook account depicts luxury lifestyle

NSB deputy chief Pol Maj-General Chatri Paisalsilpa said his office was coordinating with the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) to check Akarakit's transactions, especially the Bt6 million that he reportedly borrowed from Natthapol Nakkham, an arrested suspect under Xaysana's alleged drug network.

Police are also checking a bank account with a Bt300,000 balance, which they said Natthapol wired money into on a monthly basis for Akarakit's Area 51 big bike accessory shop.

Akarakit, the husband of actress Napapa "Patt" Tantrakul, who is pregnant, told police he became close to Natthapol through a common interest in cars and car racing without knowing about Natthapol's alleged drug-dealing activities.

Suspected drug lord linked to Thailand and Laos celebrities

Chatri said officers would check if such money lending - which Akarakit claimed he partially repaid - took place as part of the process of probing the origins of the money while also looking into whether Akarakit bought the Lamborghini on behalf of Natthapol.

Chatri said police had not charged Akarakit although investigators still had many points that needed to get a detailed explanation from Akarakit on, such as why Natthapol loaned him such a large sum of money without asking for collateral.

Police also want to know why Natthapol reportedly had much involvement in the supercar's accessorising, a development that led police to suspect that the car was really Natthapol's.

NSB deputy chief Maj-General Pornchai Charoenwong said police were still checking close-circuit camera footage in an attempt to identify who left the supercar at a car-care centre in Bangkok's Ram Inthra area and who left an orange KTM big bike at the NSB.

Pornchai said police investigators would check information with related agencies and compare it with Akarakit's testimony and would discuss the findings tomorrow at a meeting to be chaired by NSB commander Lt-General Sommai Kongwisaisuk.

Following the meeting, police might summon Akarakit or those close to him for more details, Pornchai said.

Police have been divided into three teams to check information and evidence including what Akarakit presented and documentary evidence found at his Area 51 shop linking him to Natthapol and another arrested suspect in the case, Oo Pang-olarnpavakul.

"After the Monday meeting, police will also know who we need to interview among Thai celebrities with alleged links to Xaysana," Pornchai said.

Akarakit reported to police at the NSB's office on Friday to give testimony in response to the accusation that he might be involved in laundering ill-gotten gains after police searched his home and business and went public with transactions that could link him with at least two drug suspects in Xaysana's network during the past few years.

After a five-hour interview with police, Akarakit told reporters at 10pm on Friday that he stepped forward to show sincerity and present evidence. Urging the public not to jump to any conclusions while police are still investigating, Akarakit insisted he did not know Xaysana, who was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport last month.

The ongoing investigation into Xaysana's alleged drug network in Thailand led to more suspects being arrested.

Akarakit's lawyer Saran Krit-atkan said his client had nothing to do with drug trafficking and his name only came up in relation to the case because of his purchase of a certain asset, which could be explained by evidence Akarakit possessed. He said Akarakit would co-operate with the investigation until it ended.

A police source said that Sommai had recently led NSB investigators to the South to arrest more alleged accomplices linked to the case as well as alleged associated drug networks.

The source said although it was alleged that Xaysana was a major drug dealer, police believed there were people higher up than him in the case.

ONCB secretary general Sirinya Sitthichai said that if Akarakit could not properly explain the Bt6 million loan and provide related evidence, he might be charged.

Sirinya said the ONCB might also seize the car and give it to public prosecutors to decide what to do, with the car being auctioned at possibility.

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