Thailand sending strong message to international drug gangs that use the country to transport deadly drugs to international markets
The notorious Malaysian drug smuggler dubbed the ‘Iceman’ was last month sentenced to death by Thai court. However his conviction and punishment is one of a series of high profile successes score by Thai police in the last year. Thailand’s geography in relation to the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ drug producing region presents a unique challenge to The authorities. As proposals are floated in Thailand for reform of the country’ drugs laws, it is in the midst of a struggle with the drug trade that is particularly devastating for Thai women at the lower levels of the criminal spectrum.
Two years ago, Thai and Malaysian newspapers’ front pages were filled with the news of the arrest of Tan Hun Seong, a 64 year old businessman seemingly who appeared like an innocent party. His crime: he was discovered attempting to smuggle 282 kg of crystal methamphetamine into Malaysia through Hat Yai airport in Thailand. The drug is known colloquially as ‘ice’, hence his new name: the ‘Iceman’ or ‘Malaysian Icemen’. Tan Hun Seong has been punished accordingly by justice. On August 16, he was found guilty by the Bangkok court and sentenced to death. The Malaysian and the Thai woman could be facing the possibility of execution as the country appears to have resumed executions in June this year. Both can appeal the decision to Thailand’s Court of Appeals. After that there is the possibility of second appeal to Thailand’s Dika Court which decides first whether to hear an appeal or not. Thereafter the only other chance for a reprieve is a royal pardon.
Two accomplices avoided a death sentence by cooperating with Thai police
His 66-year-old female accomplice, Thai woman Wilaipan Pettong, was also handed a death sentence by the court. Along with the duo, two other people linked with the narcotics network were convicted of similar offences. However they received lesser sentences for their cooperation with investigating police. Cheng Mi Hsu or ‘Jimmy’, a Taiwanese 69-year-old man, and Wipharat Kandee, a 50-year-old Thai woman, had been part of Tan’s drug trade before they were captured by police.They were persuaded to provide the crucial tip-off that led to his arrest and subsequent conviction. Their willingness to cooperate saved them from being condemned to death. Both gang members received a sentence of life imprisonment.
Drug kingpin had sprawling business empire
Among information passed on by Cheng and Wipharat was Tan’s mysterious financial transactions and his coded correspondence with his customers. This painted a quite different picture of the man who owned a huge network of karaoke bars, hotels and restaurants. The court found that he reaped huge profits from his drug trade and laundered the money through his legitimate businesses. Tan is believed to be a gatekeeper to the Malaysian drug market who smuggles drug from Thailand which is part of the well-known ‘Golden Triangle’.
Huge upsurge in drug activity detected by Thai authorities in the last 12 months
The upcoming executions of Tan and his accomplice will mark the comeback of death penalty that has been absent in Thailand from 2009. Death penalty is applied again amid a surge in drug seizures across Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular. Thai government reports show that there were about 1,705 drug cases in the past 10 months, compared to 453 in the same period the year before. In June, more than six tons meth was torched in the kingdom.
Downfall of drug deal began with border checkpoint arrests and intelligence
Itmerged that the capture and arrest of Tun Hung Seong was only made possible after two men were arrested earlier at a checkpoint crossing between Thailand and Malaysia. The suspects offered valuable information which allowed Thai police to make the decisive arrest of Tun Hung Seong at Hat Yai airport as he traveled to Malaysia. It is believed that Tun Hung Seong success and huge fortune was made by becoming the ‘gatekeeper’ to the Malaysian drugs market supplying it with drug products flowing from the infamous Golden triangle in the north of Thailand. The drug lord would funnel his drug profits into legitimate business concerns. Later when police raid his home following his arrest, they found vehicles with secret compartments that had been adapted or drug transports. The scale of the drugs business in Thailand which is critical for routes from the Golden Triangle to other parts of Asia can be seen from one estimate of its value at $40 billion per year.
Thailand is getting tough with the kingpins of crime not just the mules as new pattern shows
The latest conviction before the court comes as Thailand appears to be sending out a message that it is getting tough on crime. In June this year Thailand stunned international rights activists by executing its first prisoner since 2009 without notice. The consensus had been that Thailand was doing away with the death penalty but there appears to be change. The Thai public are in favour of the ultimate deterrent and the current Thai government has made strengthening law and order as well as border security a key aim that is actively working towards,
Old anti communist fighter finally goes down for drugs with wife also jailed
In December last year an well known drug kingpin an anti communist fighter in the Northern regions of Thailand was also convicted and sentenced to death for importing drugs and running a drugs syndicate. 77 year old Lao Ta Saenlee had his enhance reduce dto life imprisonment. His wife also received a 25 year sentence and the couple were fined 2.5 billion baht. One of the drug lord’s sons was sentenced to death. For many year the old Kuomintang fighter, who fought communist insurgents, was seen as wily operator in the area. His arrest and conviction indicates a new found determination by Thai authorities.
Facebook drugs boss is now in a Thai prison for life
In March this year ‘Mr X’ a famous drug dealer based in Laos was also sentenced to death by a Thai court but had his sentence subsequently reduced. 42 year old Xaysana Keopimpha had earlier been arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in a high profile arrest by Thai police. The drugs, boss who was involved with the importation of yaba and heroin into Thailand in vast quantities had become quite a Facebook star with some Thai celebrities frequesting his high profile parties and being pictured on the drug boss’s Facebook page which also featured luxury cars and images from his glamorous lifestyle until his arrest. After his arrest, the Thai Police asked some well known Thai celebrities to come forward in order to be interviewed and explain their relationship with the drugs lord. He and others like him, lucky to escape the very real possibility now of execution, can look forward to life in an overcrowded and harsh Thai prison for the rest of their natural lives.
Chronic and tragic drugs problem as drugs pour into Thailand ensnaring people in crime
Drugs have a very damaging effect on young people in Thailand. Ice or crystal methamphetamine is extremely addictive and is, as in western countries, a driver of crime in itself. The other notorious and popular drug in Thailand is Ya Ba known also in Thailand as Ya Ma meaning mad drug or horse drug. Heroin is also imported and distributed in Thailand and exported through the country from the Golden Triangle. It is thought that the rise of drug production in Afghanistan has made that country the dominant world marketplace for drugs forcing Golden Triangle operators to be more aggressive in pursuit of markets in Asia and elsewhere. This means more drugs being ferried through Thailand via various routes by networks of international gangs. The success of the Thai police and enforcement agencies is impressive and it is clear that an effort is being made to get the ‘big bosses’ in the trade as opposed to drug mules. One worrying sign may be that street prices of common drugs in Thailand has not spiked in the long term in spite of the crackdown although a message is getting through.
Drugs a particular tragedy for women in Thailand
Proposals have been presented to Thailand’s national assembly recently to loosen the country’s tough alws on the prohibition of drugs. The incarceration rate of Thai people for drug offences is relatively high. Thailand has the highest incarceration rate in the world for women convicted of drug offices according to World Prison Brief. 82% of all women jailed in Thailand land there as the result of drug related criminal activity. The incarceration rate for women in Thailand is 60.7 per 100,000 women in Thailand. This makes it the 2nd highest country after the United States. It could well be that Thailand is sending a message of its determination to root out the drug kingpins while doing something to alleviate the situation for ordinary Thai people and the overcrowded nature of Thai prisons. Many Thai prisons are overcrowded often with populations two or three times capacity. This is a situation not unlike other western countries where drugs are also proving the easiest gateway to prison.