Sad end for a Kiwi who was trail blazer in the world of synthetic drugs or ‘legal highs’ nearly a decade ago in New Zealand. Kemp Ashby, also known as Lee Vincent, moved to Pattaya in 2010 and since then has been at loggerheads with police authorities in New Zealand who successfully suppressed the London Underground organisation he had helped build in Auckland and sought his extradition to face criminal drug charges. At one point in 2010 and 2011, the group turned over tens of millions of dollars which were sent to a chain of companies and bank accounts in Hong Kong controlled by Ashby and his partner Chris Chase. Chase was sentenced to over 12 years in prison by a New Zealand court in 2015 after being arrested in 2012. A jury found that the ‘legal drugs’ were essentially the same as illegal drugs. Despite a Supreme Court appeal, the judgment stood. The duo who saw themselves as pioneers at the edges of the law and science, were held to be no better than common drug dealers and guilty of drug dealing.
Kemp Ashby or Lee Vincent was over 50 years of age. He moved to Thailand in 2010 and court documents in New Zealand described him as a permanent resident in the kingdom. With his partner Chris Chase, they created a legal, synthetic drugs organisation that funneled huge profits to Hong Kong bank accounts in boxes of cash from his mother’s North Shore home in Auckland where he was raised.
Over 50s designer drug kingpin, Lee Vincent from New Zealand or Kemp Ashby as he was known in Thailand, has been found dead in a Thai prison. The Kiwi together with his partner Chris Chase, built a $50 million drugs empire in New Zealand at the beginning of the decade in what they thought was a new market for ‘legal highs’ using a legal loophole centered on the definition of drugs classified as illegal. The news was confirmed last weekend by police and media sources in New Zealand and Thailand.
The man who grew up in Auckland and attended the Westlake Boys High School in the northern New Zealand city turned the drugs world on its head for a brief spell from 2010 to 2012.
The former millionaire was living in Pattaya and appears to have been arrested by Thai immigration police sometime in December last year and held in prison on immigration charges. His last Facebook post was on December 9th 2018.
Fought extradition to New Zealand from Thailand for 7 years but landed in prison for immigration offences
For the last seven years, police in New Zealand have been seeking to extradite the Kiwi national from Thailand.
However, it all came to a sad end last week when it was revealed that the colourful character was found dead in the Thai prison where he was being held.
He was arrested in an immigration sweep late last year as his visa was found to be out of date. He had made Thailand his permanent home in 2010 when his London Underground ‘legal high’ synthetic drugs empire took off in New Zealand. From Thailand, at the time, he coordinated a network of companies in Hong Kong which turned over tens of millions of dollars.
‘Legal High’ drugs organisation in Auckland that shook New Zealand authorities
The London Underground was a colorful and highly successful synthetic drugs operation that took off in New Zealand’s northern city of Auckland in 2010.
It sparked a crisis for authorities in the commonwealth country as the substances being sold were apparently legal but had the same effect or ‘high’ as illegal drugs. The craftily designed organization with managers with such names as ‘Johnny B Goode’ and making use of online technology, manufactured their pills for $1 and sold them to distributors for $17 to $23 who, in turn, sold them in the market for $40.
The quality was so high that there was a huge demand. This led to a number of New Zealand police operations and changes to the law which saw the enterprise repressed.
All those involved were arrested and charged with criminal offences. Kemp Ashby’s partner was sent to jail for over 12 years but Kemp had, up to last year, avoided extradition.
Co-founder who lived in Thailand died this week
It has been confirmed that the New Zealand man died in Thai police custody but no official confirmation statement has been issued. It is understood that the New Zealand entrepreneur and bodybuilder was living in Thailand with his mother Dianne Erlene Ashby.
Kiwi’s mother was a central character in the crime, financial and legal drama that unfolded
Ashby’s mother became the centre of a legal dispute at the height of the affair when legal authorities moved to restrain her home in Auckland which at one point was reported to have contained boxes of cash in $20 and $50 notes hidden behind chairs awaiting courier transport to Hong Kong.
The older woman admitted that couriers had opened some of the boxes and given her $184,000 which she later suggested was used to pay for expenses related to the business. She also vehemently and consistently denied that she or her son was engaged in any business that was illegal.
She once told the New Zealand press that it was ‘not as it appeared to be’ when commenting on the controversy that erupted over her son’s business ventures which straddled the line between what is legal and what is not.
A former bank teller, Dianne was herself cross-examined in court. She was asked if the handling of the cash and the financial affairs of the London Underground organisation was bizarre or unusual. She readily agreed that it was.
London Underground company born in an Auckland nightclub called Sinners in 2001
Kemp Ashby is also known as Lee Vincent. In 2001, the New Zealand man together with his friend Chris D’Aguar met in a nightclub in Auckland called ‘Sinners’ where they both conceived the idea of manufacturing legal stimulants to replicate the effects of illegal drugs or what later became known as ‘legal highs’ in New Zealand and other western countries.
They soon set up a company called VC Sports Science Ltd which later went on to become the London Underground organisation.
For an 18-month period in 2011 and 2012, the organisation is believed to have made tens of millions of dollars in profit. By then, Chris D’ Aguar had become Chris Chase and Lee Vincent or Kemp Ashby had moved to Thailand which became a nerve centre for the operation.
At one stage, it was reported that Ashby made a personal profit of $5 million in 8 months.
New Zealander arrested in regular immigration dawn sweeps in Thailand in December 2018
A series of landmark court cases were heard in New Zealand between 2013 and 2015.
New Zealand authorities effectively scuppered the empire and sent Chris Chase to jail for over 12 years.
Kemp Ashby also known as Lee Vincent had assets confiscated by authorities in New Zealand and orders made against him. The Crown also moved to restrain the home of his mother which was used by the organisation to store cash. Boxes of cash were later couriered to Hong Kong to be deposited in the bank accounts of companies controlled by Mr Ashby.
It is understood, however, that at the end of last year, Kemp Ashby was one of the foreigners arrested in now regular sweeps against illegal immigrants in Thailand carried out diligently and relentlessly by Thailand’s Immigration police.
It is reported that his visa to live and stay in Thailand was out of date and had not been extended. His arrest in Thailand took place at the end of last year sometime in December.
London Underground drugs organisation pushed legal and scientific barriers against the status quo
The London Underground organization pushed the scientific and legal boundaries. It ran a production facility manufacturing designer drugs and imported the key substance mephedrone from China.
The supplier was another colourful and wealthy character named Eric Chang.
Eric Chang was named a drugs kingpin by US law enforcement in 2014 as authorities worldwide moved to close off the dangerous opening and precedent of ‘legal highs’ as the new drugs were known. The dangers of methamphetamine-type drugs and their addictive nature had become more and more apparent.
The acceptance of such drugs would also have completely disrupted the effectiveness of the war on drugs itself.
Expanding business run from Auckland and Thailand tried to be low-key but was soon noticed
The London Underground company used the services of a banking expert called ‘The Banker’ who lived in an apartment located at Metropolis Tower in Auckland to organize the handling of its cash. Kemp Ashby’s partner, Chris Chase maintained an accounts system using Google’s cloud-based document system.
Ashby also using the name Lee Vincent was the key contact in Thailand and coordinated the activities of Hong Kong companies and suppliers coming from China.
The key supplies were sent, at one point, to a respected chemist and highly qualified doctor in Auckland. The burgeoning business spread through word of mouth and was designed to be low-key.
However, it was not long before its success attracted interest not just from criminal gangs in Auckland but also from the police.
Culture of secrecy and concealment helped undo the business and its founders in New Zealand
At one point, the London Underground was paying $10,000 per week for protection to a crime syndicate while the Auckland police had launched Operation Ark followed later by Operation Greenstone.
In spite of using encrypted mail and Skype for telephone calls, the New Zealand police later revealed that they had access to all the group’s telephone conversations. The efforts made by the gang to fly beneath the radar backfired somewhat and later added weight to the prosecution’s case that their drugs were similar to illegal substances and that they were as guilty as common drug dealers. The law in New Zealand is based on English common law, in which in order to be convicted the accused in any crime must have ‘mens rea’ or to put it simply, a ‘guilty mind’ when undertaking the acts.
The subterfuge employed by the London Underground organisation hence betrayed its claim to be a legal and upright business concern.
‘Probably about $5 million,’ London Underground founder when asked how much he earned by prosecution barrister in court exchange
The final legal showdown occurred in 2015 when a Supreme Court ruling in New Zealand went against the gang and confirmed the damning judgments of earlier courts.
The colourful nature of the story can be seen from an exchange between Chris Chase and the lead barrister for the prosecution. ‘It seems that your job is to read the law a different way,’ Chase parried with the barrister. Chase claimed that the law did not define the drugs produced by the London Underground as illegal and employed terms that were too broad. ‘How much money have you made from reading the law your way,’ the barrister replied. ‘Probably about $5 million,’ replied Chase.
After the appeal was unsuccessful and all convictions confirmed, Chase’s philosophical legal representative summed up the meaning of the court’s judgement. ‘I fought the law and the law won.’
Boxes of cash were kept at Kemp Ashby’s mother home in Auckland for transport to Hong Kong
The game of cat and mouse between Kemp Ashby or Lee Vincent and his partner with the New Zealand authorities can be seen from a judgment issued by the Appeals Court in Wellington on the 23rd of May 2013.
The case concerned a restraining order made against Dianne Ashby’s home by New Zealand police alleging that she had, through the use of her home and address, been complicit in money laundering activities for the trading group known as London Underground which was 50% owned by her son.
The judgment cited a spreadsheet entitled ‘The Village’ found at Chris Chase’s $3 million home detailing $11 million in turnover from September 2010 to November 2011. It also confirms that boxes of cash were kept at the North Shore home of Mrs Ashby to be transported by courier to Hong Kong.
It details a number of companies such as Profit Mark (Hong Kong) Ltd, Money Star (Asia) and South Shore Enterprises Ltd.
New Zealand man’s mother told the local media in 2013 that she was the ‘jam in the sandwich’ as she defended her son’s business and reaction of police
At the time that authorities first moved against her home, Dianne Ashby said that she was like the ‘jam in the sandwich’ and pointed out that she had not been charged with any crime.
She claimed that all the sales were legal. ‘As far as we’re all concerned the whole thing has been blown out of proportion by the cops,’ she told the press. Later, it would emerge that the while the pills were supposed to be using mephedrone which was for a time legal, ESR testing by the police in New Zealand found that many pills sold were using the more common, cheaper and illegal form of methadone.
Changes in the law and court decisions later put the operations of the London Underground firmly outside the law and this was ultimately confirmed by the decisive judgment delivered by the New Zealand Supreme Court in 2015.
By 2010 Ashby was permanently resident in Thailand living in luxurious Pattaya resort
The judgment in 2013 of the New Zealand Appeal Court confirmed that Mr Vincent also known as Kemp Ashby was permanently resident in Thailand since 2010. It cited his home address as a condominium resort in Pattaya.
It details a failed attempt to serve notice to Mr Vincent or Mr Ashby of the upcoming appeal hearing with a second attempt being signed by a maid or staff member at the apartment complex. Finally, it appears that Lee Vincent or Kemp Ashby was served with notice of the proceedings, only weeks before the hearing, by an officer of the New Zealand police in Bangkok.
Ashby developed an acute septic infection in Thailand last year and must have run into difficulties
It is understood that Kemp Ashby (Lee Vincent) was still fighting legal authorities and police in New Zealand against their attempts to extradite him from Thailand.
It can only be surmised that he had also run into some financial or other legal difficulties as the lapse in his visa status in Thailand demonstrates. In June 2018, Kemp Ashby (Lee Vincent), still a committed bodybuilder revealed that he was seriously ill in Thailand and fighting a chronic bacterial infection.
It appears that some ingrown hairs had caused an acute septic infection.
An arrest by Immigration authorities can throw foreigners into a nightmare world where they lose control of the process once taken into custody
The now middle-aged man had to undergo a number of surgeries to avoid amputation of his limbs.
His arrest in an early morning immigration sweep and subsequent incarceration in a Thai prison, awaiting deportation, does suggest a financial problem or other legal complications which prevent his visa from being extended. Lee Vincent was known in Thailand as Kemp Ashby and appears to have lived an affluent lifestyle while staying at a luxury resort in Pattaya.
He also seems to have been free to travel in and out of the country to Singapore and Hong Kong.
However, it appears that he had been in custody for some months when he died. It has also been reported that he was arrested as his visa had expired.
This can happen if a foreigner is arrested in Thailand and does not have the resources to pay the costs of deportation, is awaiting on legal paperwork or has been arrested pending extradition.
It can even occur by accident to individuals who do not have immediate access to cash but find themselves unable to undertake tasks because they find themselves restrained in prison. The failure to renew or extend his Thai visa could either have been due to financial constraints or legal issues that may have arisen. Given his high-earning past, it seems the latter may be more likely.
Either way, his deportation back to New Zealand would have been inevitable.
Death of Kemp Ashby was not suicide nor suspicious according the New Zealand police
A senior detective with the New Zealand police has said off the record that they are aware that the death of Lee Vincent was not a suicide or under suspicious circumstances.
He did confirm that authorities in New Zealand were preparing for Lee Vincent’s return and prosecution for his role as a 50% partner in the London Underground drug dealing concern.
Western foreigners now a small percentage of immigration sweep roundups in Thailand
It is reported that Lee’s health was frail from the infections that he had developed. Bacterial infections can be lethal in Thailand, in particular, if the sufferer has an underlying condition. Reports suggest that Lee Vincent had up to 15 different surgeries and had developed gangrene prior to his arrest late last year in the immigration sweep.
These immigration police operations involve a simultaneous round-up of hundreds of foreigners thought to be living illegally in Thailand. They are now carried out regularly by Thailand’s active Immigration Bureau to keep the number of illegals in Thailand at what authorities see as a target zero level.
The number of western foreigners detained in such sweeps is now regularly less than 1%. In the last year, most of those arrested were illegal workers from Myanmar, Cambodia or other Asian countries. Most western foreigners have got the message and no longer play around with immigration requirements.
It is quite shocking that the once high roller, who controlled millions in Hong Kong company accounts, could have found himself exposed to such circumstances.
Health difficulties and serious infection revealed by Ashby writing on Facebook in June 2018
When posting on Facebook about his health difficulties last year, Kemp Ashby (Lee Vincent) said that his immune system had been ‘ravaged’ by a severe bacterial infection.
He was taking ‘massive’ antibiotics to combat the threat.
The environment of a Thai prison would certainly not be advisable for anyone with such a condition with overcrowding, often unsanitary conditions and poor food.
Most western or foreign prisoners in Thailand have to be supported by family members particularly when it comes to food and medication. This lifeline of support can often be the very real difference between life and death.
In his Facebook posts as Kemp Ashby, his last entry is from early December 2018. It is an endorsement of right-wing video blogger Paul Joseph Watson and shows the contrarian, free spirit was still very much alive with the former legal drug syndicate buccaneer who attempted with his partner, to turn the wars on drugs on its head by using the law, innovation and free enterprise.
Ashby also revealed that he had been overweight and on a diet of ‘pizza and cigarettes’ saying that his weight was fluctuating wildly from being fit to being grossly overweight. Ever the optimist and thinking big, he was planning to enter the over-50s version of the Mr Universe contest when he recovered from his health crisis. He had rediscovered his love of bodybuilding.
No official statement on cause of death from Thai or New Zealand authorities this week
However, we should note that no cause of death has been reported by either Thai authorities or the police authorities in New Zealand. Given his poor diet, history of weight fluctuation and newfound interest in bodybuilding it could lend towards some sort of shock to the system.
The stress of being arrested and detained in a Thai prison for any man who is over 50 years of age should also be considered. Such a traumatic experience cannot be discounted lightly.
It has been confirmed that New Zealand authorities are providing consular assistance to Mr Ashby’s family presumably his mother. There was no response over the weekend when the press in New Zealand tried to contact Dianne Ashby about the sad fate of her son.