SATUN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The suspected mastermind of an extensive human trafficking network in Thailand was a former leader of a political party and has wide connections among authorities and certain government leaders, said Satun governor Dejrat Simsiri.
This was how Pajjuban Angchotephan, or Ko Tong (Big Brother Tong) as he is popularly known, managed to give authorities the slip for so long, said Simsiri.
However, Simsiri declined to reveal the political party that Ko Tong was affiliated with, or provide further details on the man who had surrendered to the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok on Monday.
Interestingly, Ko Tong was the former Satun Provincial Administration chairman some 10 years ago.
Nonetheless, Simsiri denied claims that the Rat Yai Island allegedly owned by Ko Tong was used as a transit point for the Rohingyas.
"It is a private island owned by Ko Tong's grandfather and it has been inherited by a relative.
"There are also several other families who are not related to Ko Tong living on the island.
"I went to the Rat Yai island with the police who were there to conduct investigations a few days ago and I can confirm that the island was not used for any human trafficking activities," he told The Star at his office in Thanon Satunthanee on Tuesday.
The Rat Yai Island is located near Koh Sarai, some 50km north from Langkawi, and is usually not marked on most maps.
Simsiri, who also went on board the stranded vessels to offer humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas last week, said that they had never planned to land in Thailand, and had told authorities that they wanted to go to Malaysia.
Thailand began a crackdown on human trafficking and smuggling after the discovery of secret jungle camps in the south, as well as dozens of shallow graves thought to contain the remains of Myanmar Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.
Ko Tong was until recently an influential official in the southern province of Satun, a region long known to be a major transit point for human smugglers and traffickers.
Local media reported that he had denied all the charges against him and said he would testify only in court.