ALLEGED LAO drug lord Xaysana Keopimpha's network has cultivated unprecedented connections, with celebrities both in Thailand and Laos believed to have assisted him with money laundering and asset concealment.
"Entertainment figures, socialites and prominent members of Thailand's luxury-car circles are now implicated," Narcotics Suppression Bureau chief Pol Lt-General Sommai Kongwisaisuk said at a press conference yesterday, while another source said one of the likely accomplices was the infamous boyfriend of a Thai actress.
Sommai was speaking based on information provided by three drug suspects.
Mang Yangkhiri, Kanokwipa Yangkhiri and Paisert sae Yang were arrested in Thailand's Udon Thani province on Sunday in possession of 720,000 methamphetamine tablets.
Their interrogation revealed extensive connections that Xaysana, who was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport last month, had cultivated with members of Thailand's high society, police said, adding that Xaysana had developed ties with prominent figures in Thailand by inviting them to parties he had hosted.
"He had portrayed himself as a rich man from Laos. When he came here, he threw parties inviting entertainment figures and celebrities from many other fields of Thailand as guests. After the ties developed, he used them for money laundering," Sommai said.
It is now believed that more than 100 groups in Thailand have been affiliated with Xaysana.
The Narcotics Suppression Bureau has pledged to dig deeper to identify and apprehend all culprits and proceed with asset seizures.
In his home country of Laos, Xaysana |is a high-profile celebrity with an extra-vagant lifestyle. Pictures of his collection |of luxury cars including Lamborghinis |are posted on his Facebook page.
He has a number of legitimate businesses such as hotels and sawmills and has appeared in public with people from Laos's high society, such as the children of leaders in the government and the ruling party.
Many well-known figures in Vientiane over the past few weeks have distanced themselves from Xaysana and his associates after the news of his arrest broke in Thailand late last month.
Social media in Laos released pictures of Xaysana with many well-known persons to imply a close connection. Sommaly Thammavong, daughter-in-law of former prime minister Thongsing Thammavong, told the Washington-based Radio Free Asia that a photo showing her with Xaysana was taken by accident. Sommaly is the wife of the former prime minister's son Dethsongkam Thammavong.
The photo, which has circulated widely on Facebook pages following Xaysana's January 19 arrest, showed only a casual social connection, she said. "We have not done any business with |him, and we didn't know what he was involved in," Sommaly said. "We met him by accident and had photos taken occasionally at parties or at weddings.
"We each earn our living in different ways."
In Thailand, between October 1 and January 31, anti-narcotics operations seized more than Bt84 million (S$3.38 million) in assets. The haul over the period included 14 million methamphetamine tablets, 69 kilograms of heroin, 16kg of cocaine, 369kg of dried marijuana and 871kg of crystal methamphetamine. A total of 143 arrests were made during the same period. Deputy National Police Commissioner Pol General Chalermkiat Sriworakhan said at yesterday's press conference that police had found 49kg of crystal methamphetamine and 24.1kg of marijuana at a house in Songkhla's Hat Yai district last Friday in a case linked to cross-border drug operations.
"An ongoing investigation suggests that a Malaysian has smuggled the narcotics from Thailand to Malaysia," Chalermkiat said.
He identified this Malaysian suspect as Toh Bee Siang. Toh remains on the run, after he successfully escaped from police who attempted to apprehend him at his rented house in Songkhla last Friday.
According to Chalermkiat, Toh was about to leave his house in a car bearing a Malaysian licence plate when police arrived with the intention of searching the premises. Instead of cooperating, Toh sped off in the car and escaped. Police later found his car abandoned on Phetkasem Road, while witnesses said they had seen the driver get out of the car and run away.
"We will go after him and charge him for drug in possession with an intention to sell," Chalermkiat said.