The successful arrests of drug suspects is not necessarily the end of a police investigation, and following the money trail of three seemingly unrelated drug gangs has led police to a surprising outcome — not only are the gangs connected, but all are run by drug lords in Laos.
What police thought were home-grown domestic drug rings instead have turned out to be an international network of drug traffickers generating billions of baht in illicit income for drug bosses abroad.
It began in the first half of this year when police nabbed three major drug syndicates and seized millions of speed pills and crystal methamphetamine.
The officers apprehended suspects in separate operations, but after tracing the money trails, they found the gangs are part of a large network of interrelated sub-rings with links to suspected drug lords living in Laos, who received money transfers totaling some three billion baht from their minions.
“Usually we do not do [financial checks] for ordinary drug cases but these were big busts,” said a high-level policeman at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB). National police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang assigned NSB chief Pol Lt Gen Rewat Klinkeson to continue investigating the cases even though many suspects have already been caught, a source said.
Pol Gen Somyot aims for the complete eradication of the gangs so they cannot restart their drug trades in the future, the source said, adding that one way to do so is to investigate the suspects’ financial transactions and seize their assets. The investigation into one of the cases uncovered evidence revealing its link to a transnational drug syndicate masterminded from abroad.
It started with the arrest of three men in Bangkok on Jan 23 – Anuwat Sawisit, 29, Pvt 1st Class Rachan Lita, a 27-year-old former soldier, and Athit Ratinan, 35, when police confiscated 1.7 million methamphetamine pills and 36kg of crystal methamphetamine.
Mr Athit was a drug trafficking suspect wanted by the NSB for his previous alleged involvement in the drug trade.
In 2012, he was nabbed by Nonthaburi police for possession of drugs and fled while on bail, which led to a probe that eventually dismissed the four Nonthaburi Provincial Court judges who had granted him temporary release.
Investigators found Mr Athit continued to traffic drugs from China after his escape. He was finally arrested when he returned this year to a former drugs storehouse in Khlong Chan Villa 2 in Bung Kum district.
Pol Lt Gen Rewat said Mr Athit had “transferred [money] in a very complex way”.
Uncovering the trail exposed its connection to two other drug gangs, with three billion baht overall which was sent to Laos.
In the second case, police found a large cache of 2.9 million speed pills hidden in a six-wheel lorry left unattended at a petrol station in Pathum Thani’s Khlong Luang district on March 24.
Though no suspects were arrested, police identified the truck owner, a Thai national of Hmong descent, in northern Tak province’s Phop Phra district. Drug couriers exploited a flaw in police checkpoints by hiding drugs in piles of farm produce, as officers rarely check produce out of fear of causing damage, said police.
The last case, concerning a large drug gang led by Prachong Phueaknam, involved the arrest of three gang members on April 12 – Mafi Suriwong, 50, Sakkharin Kaeoamphai, 28, Wirat Burot, 31 – while they were allegedly delivering 300,000 speed pills while parked at a car park of the Lotus supermarket at the Liap Ram Intra expressway branch in Bangkok.
Further police work uncovered over two million pills and 14.8kg of crystal methamphetamine. Five more suspects – gang leader Prachong, 53, Phatthana Khemngoen, 39, Thaloengsak Rumchit, 46, and two Myanmar women – were then arrested.
Though the three cases at first appeared to be isolated, the money trail tied them together, the source said. Police are still checking whether the money changed hands again in Laos and has gone to other countries abroad. “From simple homegrown drug gangs we suspect this is an international drug ring,” the source said.