Thai police seize $40 million drug haul linked to Laos suspect

An April 2017 file photo of Xaysana Keophimpa, allegedly a key figure among gangs buying drugs from Myanmar's meth labs, arriving at a criminal court in Bangkok after being detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Jan 19.
An April 2017 file photo of Xaysana Keophimpa, allegedly a key figure among gangs buying drugs from Myanmar's meth labs, arriving at a criminal court in Bangkok after being detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Jan 19.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai police on Tuesday (July 25) announced the seizure of drugs worth 1 billion baht (S$40.6 million), including seven million methamphetamine tablets, "ice" and liquid ketamine, from houses around Bangkok linked to an alleged Laotian drug lord.

Seven Thais were arrested in the major two-day operation, which turned up 60kg of crystal methamphetamine - known as "ice" - and thousands of bottles of liquid ketamine.

When smoked, "ice" gives a stronger high than the pill version of meth - which is known in Thailand as "yaba" and has also flooded other parts of South-east Asia.

"The drugs were kept at 'warehouses', waiting to be delivered to lower-level drug dealers," said Wuttipong Phetkamnerd from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, estimating the street value at 1 billion baht.

"The top of this network is linked to Xaysana (Keophimpa) and others," he added, referring to the 42-year-old Laotian who was arrested at a Thai airport in January.

Police accuse Xaysana - dubbed "Mr X" - of using his base in shadowy Laos to funnel meth, "ice" and Ecstasy from the Golden Triangle region down through Thailand and Malaysia.

Xaysana's arrest drew frenzied media coverage in Thailand after police said a string of celebrities, including a soap opera star, were linked to his smuggling network.

It also spotlighted the role of communist Laos as a transit country in the regional drug trade, home to several key middlemen accused of shuttling pills to big markets in Thailand and Malaysia.

Xaysana has denied all charges and is awaiting trial in a Thai prison.

The Golden Triangle, a rugged region where Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and southern China intersect, is the world's second largest drug-producing area after Latin America.

Large amounts of opium and heroin and hundreds of millions of methamphetamine pills are churned out in remote jungle labs each year and smuggled across Asia and beyond.