26-year-old Canadian Alexandre Cazes and his multi-billion baht Alphabay Market empire which he operated for just over two years in Thailand and which netted him a fortune of over ฿700 million, was raised and discussed by police and drug suppression officials at this week’s summit in Bangkok attended by the Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin. In July this year, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, gave an order to senior officials to begin efforts to target the highest echelons of the drug trade as authorities in the kingdom are under no illusion that it is flourishing and making advances, despite record seizures.

A summit of police agencies, drug suppression and enforcement officials from Thailand and the United States gathered last week in the presence of the Minister of Justice, Somsak Thepsutin, to look at the growing use of cryptocurrencies and other technology by the huge drug cartels that the kingdom is battling with across Thailand’s extensive border with the Golden Triangle to the north. The officials particularly examined the case of the Alphabay Market, an online exchange set up in 2015 and operated from Thailand by a young Canadian programming wizard, Alexandre Cazes, who took his own life in Bangkok in 2017 after being arrested seven days earlier when his billion baht online empire was shut down by law enforcement authorities in Thailand and the United States.

A high level meeting of Thai and senior US officials took place in Bangkok last week overseen and hosted by the Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin. On the agenda was the increasing use of cryptocurrencies by large drug cartels and an examination of the case of Canadian Alexandre Cazes (inset top right with Thai wife Sunisa Thepsuwan) whose Alphabay dark web criminal marketplace, operated from Thailand, made billions in two short years and was brought down in a Bangkok police raid in 2017 after which Mr Cazes committed suicide.

Thailand’s Justice Minister participated at a high-level summit last week which saw senior law enforcement officials from the United States in attendance as well as video links from Washington DC, to discuss the fight against drug cartels at the highest level which pose a growing threat to both Thailand, the USA as well as other countries in the West and Asia where drug addiction is fuelling criminality, violence and misery at an unprecedented level.

The meeting comes after an order from the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, in mid-July at a top-level meeting in Chiang Mai, to officials to refocus efforts to target the highest echelons of the drug trade amid a growing conviction among officials in both Thailand and the United States, that the drug cartels are becoming more sophisticated and capable particularly regarding the use of technology and new innovations from the production of narcotic substances to their distribution and the financial management of huge amounts of money, the proceeds of the illegal trade, to avoid detection and confiscation.

Minister estimates that a maximum of only 1% of all drug shipments are being intercepted by police

At the meeting, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin openly admitted that, despite record levels of drug seizures and arrests, by his own calculations, he believes that Thai law enforcement has only intercepted less than 1% of narcotics shipments entering the kingdom from the infamous Golden Triangle area which threatens it, the wider Asian region and the western world with its illicit and menacing schemes.

On the other hand, there is also growing concern in Thailand about the numbers of local men and women being incarcerated for low-level drug crime including possession of methamphetamine which is said to account for over 70% of female inmates held in the Thai corrections system.

The issue has drawn criticism from some in the country even within the top ranks of the government itself among civil servants and law enforcement officials who have begun to ask questions about the ongoing war on drugs being waged since the 1960s by Thailand in partnership with the United States.

High-level summit with Thai and US officials

Those attending last week’s conference included Mr Christopher Nielsen, the Director of the Far East Section of the United States DEA or Drug Enforcement Administration as well as United States Federal Attorney Grant Rabenn.  

The meeting was attended by over 100 officials and officers from the National Narcotics Control Committee as well as the Royal Thai Police and a range of agencies including the Attorney General’s Office, Money Laundering Office, Bank of Thailand, Customs and DSI or Department of Special Investigation. 

Use of cryptocurrencies by drug gangs focused on the case of Candian Alexandre Cazes in July 2017

Two key areas of importance were focused on during the discussions and that was the use of cryptocurrencies by international drug gangs as well as a case study of the now-closed dark web international marketplace, Alphabay, which was shut down by authorities in the United States and Thailand when its 26-year-old Canadian owner, Alexandre Cazes, was arrested in Bangkok on the 5th of July 2017 by a task force led by the Narcotics Suppression Bureau working with nine different countries.

From zero to ฿10 billion business in two years

The arrest took place at the Canadian’s home on the Phutthamonthon Sai 3 Road in the Thawi Watthana district of Bangkok on the 5th of July 2017. 

Police later revealed that this property, valued at ฿8 million, while it contained luxury cars valued in excess of ฿56 million, was the least expensive of the Canadian’s homes in Thailand, all held at arm’s length from his identity.

He also owned a ฿100 million mansion on the Kanchanaphisek Road in Bangkok and a ฿200 million villa in Phuket.

Authorities later estimated that Cazes had assets at his disposal in Thailand of over ฿726 million when he was apprehended. 

US officials set the value of his website and business as a going concern at ฿10 billion.

Legitimate online wizard who turned to crime only in 2014 and the money rolled in every day

It is understood that Mr Cazes worked in legitimate online business concerns during his first four years in Thailand and only began developing Alphabay in 2014.

The Canadian, who was a wizard at programming, only launched his dark website for criminality in 2015.

It was not long up and running before it had over 200,000 users and up to $800,000 per day in turnover of which Cazes had a 3.9% cut.

All funds were paid and distributed in cryptocurrency using Bitcoin.

Mr Casez had cryptocurrency deposits believed to be in the region of ฿313 million and local bank deposits to the value of ฿46 million when police brought his world tumbling down and seized his assets.

Found dead in his Bangkok holding cell seven days after his arrest, autopsy found it was suicide

He was found dead seven days after his arrest in his prison holding cell in Bangkok after he was found to have hung himself with a towel on July 12th 2017.

Police Lieutenant General Sommai Kongwisaisuk, the Head of the NSB, at the time, said that an autopsy had confirmed that the Canadian, who had an IQ of 142, had committed suicide and suggested that he may have feared retribution from criminal overlords for losses incurred when the website was suspended and taken down with all funds frozen by authorities.

He said that the Canadian was due to be extradited to the United States to face federal charges there.

Canadian married twice in Thailand in seven years

The Canadian was only 26 years old when he died and was known to have loved Thailand. He had lived in the kingdom since he was 19 years of age, arriving in 2010.

Mr Cazes had been married twice to a Thai woman, only marrying his second wife, Sunisa Thepsuwan, the year previously, after meeting her on a local matchmaking website.

Growth of cryptocurrencies attracts criminals because the money trail is more difficult to trace

The review by drug suppression officials, last week, of the Alphabay case and the focus on cryptocurrencies tells us something, right now, of the concern which law enforcement officials in Thailand and the United States have about the explosive growth in this financial market.

Bitcoin, this week, broke through the $20,000 barrier and then moved on by another 20%. The value is currently nearing ฿710,000 for one coin while many seasoned investors are growing increasingly more alarmed, calling it a pyramid scheme while others, equally adamant, say the supply of the currency is limited and that it will more than double its current value again shortly.

Canadian’s instant success about which minister wants officials and police agencies to know more 

The use of the currency, based on blockchain technology, means that authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to follow the money trail of drug dealers and their money changers. 

Hence the demand and success of the bitcoin denominated trading platform operated by Mr Cazes.

Justice Minster, Mr Somsak, acknowledged this during last week’s meeting and implied that there was much that authorities have to learn while suggesting that officials must catch up.

‘We changed our policy from chasing pills. It breaks the financial cycle, yet I believe that within two to three years, drug dealers will be able to know. We just have to escape from there to be a way of Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies. Which the seminar today is about. To gain knowledge from speakers from the United States. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary because if we do not develop to lead the criminal, he will know as well and we may not adapt in time.’

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