Bangkok’s Criminal Court stuns as the case against Myanmar mogul, Dr Tun Min Latt, and Senator Upakit’s son-in-law collapses. The ruling cited insufficient evidence after 16 months in jail. Legal bombshell raises questions about the fate of Senator Upakit’s ongoing trial.
Prosecutors suffered a setback on Tuesday when a senator’s son-in-law and a Burmese business tycoon with strong links to its military junta were freed by a Bangkok court. The Criminal Court ruled that the evidence was simply not enough to convict the two substantial businessmen before it, together with other defendants. The charges before the court involved drug trafficking and money laundering. The case decision, on Tuesday, may have an impact on the ongoing prosecution of Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun. The upper house member was similarly charged by prosecutors in December 2023.
On Tuesday, in what is seen as a significant reversal for police and prosecutors, the Criminal Court on Ratchadapisek Road dismissed all charges against Burmese tycoon Dr Tun Min Latt.
Previously, the prominent Myanmar businessman and son-in-law of Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun, Dean Young Gultula, were arrested and charged in 2022. They faced drug trafficking, money laundering and transnational crime conspiracy charges.
The pair spent a year and four months in jail.
Evidence presented to the court insufficient to convict businessmen as it could be adequately explained to the court by lawyers on the defendant’s behalf
The case before the court on Tuesday was Black Case No. 1249/2022. At length, the court’s decision, delivered on January 30, 2024, was that the evidence presented was insufficient to convict the two successful businessmen.
The prosecution had accused Dr Tun Min Latt and four others of jointly supporting each other in committing drug-related offences between February 22, 2019, and May 10, 2019.
The charges included planning and executing the procurement, deposit, withdrawal, and transfer of money related to category 1 drugs (methamphetamine). The alleged scheme involved using a company, Allure Group Company (P&E), to conceal the illicit funds.
Prosecutors claimed payment for provincial electricity bills in the Mae Sai District of Chiang Rai Province was a money laundering scheme. In effect, the funds were allegedly then purportedly converted into electrical products and exported to Myanmar.
Prosecutors described the company’s activities linked to complex transactions at foreign exchange shops near the border as a criminal money laundering plot
During the trial, the prosecution argued that the defendants were part of a criminal organisation engaged in serious drug-related offences. However, the defendants vehemently denied these charges, and the case proceeded to a judgement.
The court considered the financial routes of six drug network groups previously found guilty. Some financial links led to currency exchange shops along the border, which were also used by the Allure Group.
At the same time, witnesses from the drug network groups testified that they had no knowledge of the defendants.
Additionally, the accused were not present during the events leading up to the arrests.
The defence presented testimony from various business groups.
Defence argued the money exchange transactions were legitimate business tactics. The court was impressed by the fact that they continued after the arrests
In short, they asserted that they were customers using money transfer services for legitimate transactions.
The defence contended that the accused utilised the currency exchange shop for ordinary business transactions.
Significantly, the court noted that even after the arrests, the company continued using the same payment methods.
The court’s ruling highlighted the lack of evidence linking all five defendants to a joint criminal conspiracy. Certainly also, not to one related to drug trafficking and transnational criminal activities.
It held that the defendant’s evidence emphatically refuted the prosecution’s claims. Consequently, the judge dismissed the case.
Emotional scenes and cheering from defence supporters after the verdict was delivered. The accused men were freed after spending over 16 months in prison
Upon hearing the verdict, the courtroom witnessed emotional scenes as the defendants’ relatives celebrated the dismissal. The defendants were released from prison, and that decision prompted further cheers and applause.
The accused men 55-year-old Dr Tun Min Latt and 38-year-old Dean Young Gultula were free. In court, they were joyously reunited with family and friends.
The two had spent over 16 months in prison.
Rueangsak Suksiangsri, lawyer for the second defendant, Dean Young Gultula (son-in-law of Senator Upakit), underlined the extensive financial trails involved in the case.
He challenged the prosecution’s focus on the Myanmar Allure Company.
In particular, he questioned why other entities with similar financial paths were not included in the lawsuit. Mr Rueangsak stressed that the judgement had now set a precedent.
Prosecutors and police must now think twice as this case has set a clear precedent that incontrovertible proof will be required to convict going forward
Undoubtedly, this was cautionary advice to law enforcement to carefully assess evidence before issuing arrest warrants. He pointed to the involvement also of prestigious Thai firms and international schools in the complex transactions. In short, these were business partners to the firm.
The lawyer claimed that the judgement on Tuesday will benefit Senator Upakit, whose name was mentioned in the court’s judgement.
While acknowledging the ongoing legal process, he saw the judgement as beneficial to dispelling any doubts about his legal position.
At the same time, he acknowledged the situation was uncertain and would be subject to expert legal opinion.
Judgement raises questions about the ongoing prosecution of Senator Upakit based on similar evidence and charges. Still must be examined by legal experts
Senator Upakit was charged before a court in December 2023. The upper house member was charged with six offences including money laundering, drug trafficking and operating a transnational crime organisation. Today’s judgement certainly raises questions about this prosecution.
The senator himself, at this point, while facing these charges, has already had assets frozen by prosecuting agencies. Last month he was released after paying bail of ฿10 million.
Exultant defence lawyers, on Tuesday, were adamant that the challenge to the state’s case was the right thing to do.
They emphasised their commitment to fighting it tooth and nail as it may still be brought before the Supreme Court.
At length, the legal eagles highlighted the devastating consequences, including imprisonment and job loss, facing the defendants even before the trial’s conclusion.
High profile case has diplomatic implications given the close economic and personal links between Dr Tun Min Latt and the ruling military junta in Myanmar
The case, which involved a Myanmar conglomerate with links to Myanmar’s ruling junta, had initially garnered massive media attention. Unquestionably, its alleged connections to drug trafficking and money laundering galvanised interest.
Dr Tun Min Latt, the arrested businessman, has extensive ties to various industries, including arms dealing, electricity supply, and provision of food to Myanmar’s armed forces.
The tycoon is also reportedly close to General Min Aung Hlaing and his family.
The arrests came against a backdrop of concerns about the complex relationships between Myanmar’s rulers and criminal activities along Thailand’s borders.
In particular, criminal activity in the Golden Triangle drug-producing zone which is now threatened by Burma’s civil war.
Firm provided power to Myanmar including Tachileik
The company at the centre of the case was involved in providing electricity to Tachileleik, an urban centre in the region. Tachileik had previously become a gambling and nightlife mecca.
In conclusion, we will have to wait to see if the decision on Tuesday is appealed by prosecutors to the Supreme Court.
Similarly, the impact of this case on the one taken by prosecutors against Senator Upakait. That decision was backed by the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG).
Obviously, today’s judgement of the court, on the evidence before it, will weigh heavily on those further reviewing those proceedings.