BANGKOK • A Thai court yesterday sentenced a notorious 76-year-old drug trafficker to life in prison after he was allegedly caught trying to sell 20kg of crystal meth or "ice" in the Golden Triangle drug producing region.
Laota Seanlee - a former anti-communist guerilla turned drug runner who famously opened an eponymous coffee store in Thailand's far north - was nabbed with several of his relatives by undercover officers in a sting operation last year.
The rugged Golden Triangle zone - which includes parts of Myanmar, Laos and southern China - is home to some of the world's most prolific drug producers, with cartels moving heroin and methamphetamine across Asia.
Yet high-profile arrests are rare.
Laota, who hails from the Lisu ethnic minority, had been detained multiple times over the decades but the authorities never managed to make major drug charges stick - until now.
Bangkok's criminal court sentenced him to life in prison for selling "ice" to undercover police and possessing 20kg of the high-purity narcotic in his compound - charges he confessed to. "The court ruled to give him the death penalty for possession and intention to sell 20kg of 'ice' but due to his confession the sentence was reduced to life in prison and 2.5 million baht (S$103,800) fine," the judge said.
Laota's wife was sentenced to 25 years in prison while his two sons, who denied helping to facilitate the drug sales, were handed the death penalty, a sentence that is rarely carried out in Thailand.
The sons, one of whom was a local administrator in Chiang Mai province, will appeal, according to Laota's lawyer.
Laota is widely thought to have had ties to Asia's most notorious drug trafficker Khun Sa, a Myanmar-based rebel leader who was one of the world's most wanted men until his death in 2007.