PATTAYA: A key witness, against 36-year-old Luke Cook and his wife, was former police volunteer Douglas Shoebridge who fled Thailand last year after it emerged he was involved in the trafficking of women from Africa to work as prostitutes on the streets of Bangkok. Police, however, are confident that the case, against the married couple and a third American accused, stands up as was the Appeals Court which has just upheld the sentences.
An Australian father and grandfather made an emotional appeal on Australia’s 9News this week for justice for his son and Thai wife who were both sentenced to death at the end of 2018. Their sentences were upheld by the Provincial Court of Appeal in Rayong on Wednesday 26th of February last. He claims his son is innocent and was framed by a third party. However, reports and police intelligence paint a far murkier picture.
A 62-year-old Australian father has made an emotional appeal to Australia’s Foreign Minister and Attorney General to act quickly after his 36-year-old son, Luke Cook, had his appeal against a death sentence handed down by a Thai court sitting in Rayong in November 2018 for masterminding a plot to traffic half a tonne of crystal methamphetamine through Thailand organised through mafia connections in China and on to Thailand, rejected two weeks ago by a Thai court.
The drug trafficking operation is understood to have been financed from Australia by the Hells Angels bikers gang.
On February 26th, the Region 2 Provincial Court of Appeal rejected appeals from Mr Cook, his Thai wife, 42-year-old Kanyarat Wechapitak, and a third person convicted and condemned in relation to the plot, US national Tyler Gerard.
The death sentences against the three were upheld by the court.
Emotional appeal on 9 News in Australia as father claims Appeal Court hearing was brought forward
On 9 News in Australia, this week, 62-year-old Paul Cook said that his son’s appeals before the Rayong Court was scheduled for March 26th next.
However, inexplicably, he says that instead his son was taken to the court without notice two weeks ago and the decision was read out.
He said that his son had no embassy assistance, translators or legal representation at the court.
‘How can an appeal be handled in such a way,’ Mr Cook said in frustration. ‘When the rules change, is that fair, is there hope?’
It should be noted that in Thailand the court procedures are somewhat different from those in western countries or particularly English jurisprudence which is adversarial in nature.
Often where there is no new evidence, decisions can be made swiftly or even if so, handed down in written judgments after consideration by judges.
Can lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court
The convicted drug traffickers may now lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court although it will first have to agree to take up the appeal based on the merits of the case.
Thereafter, the only hope for the three condemned in the case would be a pardon from the Thai Monarch.
Mr Cook and his wife have 30 days to lodge an appeal to the highest court which gives them until March 27th next.
There are currently over 500 people on death row in Thailand including Mr Cook and his Thai wife.
The last execution was on June 18th, 2018 at Bang Kwang Central Prison and was carried out without prior notice to the public.
The preceding executions before that were in 2009 when two convicted drug traffickers were given lethal injections showing just how seriously Thailand views the offence.
Cook’s father claims no links with notorious Hells Angels crime gang active in Pattaya’s underworld
In his interview with 9News TV this week, Mr Cook senior, who lives in Thailand and travelled home for the media appearance, suggested that his son had no involvement with the notorious Hells Angels group in the city.
The crime group, linked to the Australian bikers gang with the same name, in recent years, became the subject of a crackdown by Thai police concerned at the widening remit of its illegal activities.
Paul Cook told the TV interview that his son was essentially a legitimate businessman who also had a Fly In Fly Out job in Australia while running a bar and hotel in the resort city with his wife.
’My son is a good man,’ he said. ‘I can say now my son is no Hell’s Angel, he has not ever been associated with a group like that.’
Arrest in 2015 and subsequent trial suggests Cook had links with criminality in Patttaya
However, Luke Cook was arrested by Thai police in December 2015.
His arrest, along with the American Mr Gerard, was for participating in the murder of prominent Hells Angels associate Wesley Shneider who was abducted from his home and later beaten to death over the same drug trafficking plot.
This was after the deal went wrong and matters turned sour when the drugs involved in the shipment were lost after being dumped into the sea.
It is understood that Mr Cook pleaded guilty to certain charges at that time.
In colourful court proceedings, the Australian man was lucky to escape with a suspended sentence after the court found him involved in attempts to cover up the crime linked with Tyler Gerard and a Mr Antonio Bagnato who was afterwards sentenced to death for the murder but later won an appeal and was released from prison.
His whereabouts, since, are unknown.
Father claims he was framed by gang members
On TV in Australia this week, Mr Cook suggested that his son had been framed by gang members.
There are suggestions that several foreigners, who were associates of Mr Cook’s, had supplied information to authorities and witness statements.
One of these was Douglas Shoebridge, an Australian also with links to Scotland and dual citizenship.
This player fled Thailand last year when police in Bangkok uncovered a human trafficking business involving the importation of African women into the sex trade in the city.
Mr Shoebridge, once a police volunteer in Pattaya, is also associated with some individuals in the illegal steroids trade there who are understood to have provided evidence against Mr Cook.
One former associate of the group suggests that Mr Shoebridge, who was reportedly aware of the huge drug import operation, attempted to extort money from Mr Cook who resisted.
Authorities and Thai police have confidence in their case against Luke Cook and his Thai wife
However, Thai police sources are confident that their case against the Australian and his Thai wife is sound.
After last month’s Appeals Court verdict, sources within the police suggested that it is believed by authorities that Mr Cook and his wife were extensively involved in criminal activity linked with the gang.
They believe that on June 15th 2015, the Australian skippered a Malaysian registered yacht, the ‘JoMandy’, from Pattaya’s marina which he owned through a Thai company set up and linked with Walter Scheider to a rendezvous point with a Chinese trawler offshore. In international waters, they loaded half a tonne of the deadly crystal meths substance onto the craft.
Yacht intercepted by Royal Thai Navy off Rayong
Reports suggest that the yacht was later intercepted by the Royal Thai Navy off Rayong province and Mr Cook made the decision to dump the cargo at sea.
Afterwards, two packages totalling 50 kgs of the drug were washed ashore on a local beach prompting a police investigation.
Region 2 police in Thailand understand that Cook had planned to store the drugs for a period and then conceal the narcotics in a specially adapted keel of the craft so that the yacht could sail the valuable cargo to Australia.
They also formed the opinion that a Thai company, Global Marine Solution, set up by murdered Aussie Wesley Schneider and which was used by Luke Cook and his wife to take ownership of the yacht, was established precisely for that purpose in what police believe was a combined criminal enterprise.
Convicted couple were highly respected and well known in Pattaya with a thriving business concern
However, Paul Cook, Luke’s father told the West Australian newspaper last year that his son was still working as an offshore caterer when he was arrested by Thai authorities in 2017.
The Australian, with his wife, also ran a business importing boats and marine parts as well as running a popular bar.
Luke and Kanyarat were very well known as a power pair in Pattaya running Jolly’s Piss Stop Bar and Restaurant and the attached Jolly’s Hotel in Soi Bua Khao.
Their arrests at the end of December 2017 and subsequent conviction shocked many in a city where that it is not so easy to do.
There was some suggestion, however, that Luke’s older wife was the driving force behind their successful relationship up to their surprise arrest by Thai police.
‘My son was labelled a Hell’s Angel and sentenced to death in Thailand without any basis at all. He was an offshore caterer and still working at it to earn money when he was arrested returning to Thailand’, Paul Cook claimed on Australian TV this week.
Sons of the condemned couple now being cared for by relatives in Australia parents await their fate
The condemned couple, who have two sons who are now being cared for in Australia, were arrested at the end of December 2017 as Mr Luke flew into Thailand from his work as an offshore caterer in Australia.
Mr Cook is originally from Duncraig, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia.
The young Australian emigrated to Pattaya with nothing and built a small business empire there.
His father, this week, highlighted the fact that his son had never been linked to the drugs found in Rayong and claims that his conviction was based primarily on the evidence of Douglas Shoebridge who he refused to loan money to.
Mr Shoebridge aka ‘Big Daddy’ is the subject of an arrest warrant issued in Thailand last year linked with human trafficking. According to unconfirmed reports, he may be currently living in Australia.