Activists urge Britain to hand over details of multimillion-dollar sale of fake bomb detectors to Thailand

A Thai soldier using a GT200 detector as he patrols the streets of Yala, in Thailand's restive south, on March 2, 2010.
A Thai soldier using a GT200 detector as he patrols the streets of Yala, in Thailand's restive south, on March 2, 2010.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Activists on Monday (June 27) urged Britain to hand over details of the multimillion-dollar sale to Thailand of fake bomb detectors that led to the detention of scores of innocent people.

British fraudster Gary Bolton was jailed in 2013 for making millions selling the GT200 - which he billed as a "magic wand" able to detect tiny particles of explosives or drugs from hundreds of metres away.

It was in fact a useless homemade plastic box with a radio antenna - made for US$6 but sold for between US$3,300 (S$4,475) and US$13,000 per unit to governments including Thailand, Mexico and Iraq.

On Monday, Mr Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of Thailand's pro-democracy "Red Shirt" street movement, urged the British embassy in Bangkok to share details of contracts between Bolton's firm and the kingdom's officials.

"Particularly the contracts of broker companies which sold them (GT200) to the Thai government and how much they cost," he said in a YouTube post.

A corruption probe into why the Thai military and several other departments bought the device despite expert advice has ground to a halt.

Thailand's army chief at the time was Mr Anupong Paojinda, the current interior minister and an architect of the 2014 coup that restored the military to power, toppling the Red Shirts' hero Yingluck Shinawatra.

Mr Anupong repeatedly defended the use of the fake detector even as tests cast serious doubt over its efficacy.

In 2010, the year the GT200 was officially banned from export by the British authorities, he told reporters that "we don't have a replacement yet so we continue to use it".

Last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a senior general during Mr Anupong's tenure as army chief, said the device was "useful once... but when they were proven to be useless they were not used anymore".

Rights groups say hundreds of people were detained - some for several weeks - in Thailand's restive south after erroneous findings of traces of explosives by security officers using the GT200.

"Regardless of court rulings in the UK and overwhelming scientific evidence, Thai military leadership still defend the use of GT200," said Mr Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch Asia.

He said the first sales took place in 2005, ultimately amounting to orders of nearly 1,400 GT200s worth US$32 million across 15 separate agencies.

Sunai called for a probe into possible loss of life and the "large numbers of wrongful arrests" due to the use of the bogus equipment.

The powerful military refuses to concede it was duped over its rumoured US$20 million acquisition, or apologise to those held in what rights groups call a flagrant miscarriage of justice.