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Drug baron still one step ahead
- Subject: Drug baron still one step ahead
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 09 Nov 1998 01:08:00
November 8, 1998
Drug baron still one
Police fail to arrest him after 20 days
Preecha Srisathan Onnucha Hutasingh
Drug baron Surachai Ngernthongfu remains a winner in the
hide-and-seek game he has played with the government thanks to help
at the Thai-Burmese border and a lack of cooperation among officials
who are trying to track him down.
Ten police, army and anti-drug forces have been looking for Surachai,
alias Bang Ron, in the Kanchanaburi border area for more than 20
days, but the fugitive has remained elusive.
Surachai fled during last month's police raid on his house in Nong
Chok with a briefcase packed with several million baht in cash and
was believed to be in hiding in Kanchanaburi.
Police found hundreds of thousands of amphetamine pills during the
A Border Patrol Police intelligence source based in Kanchanaburi said
some policemen who became Surachai's underlings helped him cross
the border into Burma at Ban Huay Takokhrok opposite Ban Mee Ta
Mong in Sangkhla Buri district.
From there, Surachai took a boat along Mae Ka Sa River, landed
near the Kachai mountain range and sought refuge with a self-ruled
Muslim community of about 100 families, located about 17 km north
of the Three Pagoda Pass.
The village, guarded by a heavily-armed force, had agreed with the
Burmese military regime that it would not expand its boundary but
Rangoon at the same time must not interfere with its "internal affairs",
the source said.
The source said the village has long been a major source of smuggled
cattle and marijuana production as well as a transit camp for drug
"That place was certainly a safe haven for Surachai," he said.
The hunt shocked many locals who looked at Surachai as a man with
a heart of gold.
Surachai has had cattle trading and sawmill business in Kanchanaburi
for 10 years. A Kanchanaburi police officer said he first came to sell
beef with some Muslim friends in Tha Muang district and then
partnered an influential policeman in trafficking cattle from Burma. The
business flourished and was later expanded to Sangkla Buri, Si Sawat
and Thong Pha Phum districts.
He bought several plots of land in Tha Muang, two houses in Sangkla
Buri and one on the Burmese border close to a stronghold of ethnic
Mons and a number of rafts and resorts said to have been used for
The police source said Surachai also traded in cannabis during the
cattle deals but was never caught because the Muslims and an
ex-Border Patrol policeman helped cover up for him.
With assistance from a Kanchanaburi businessman, a senior police
officer and a former MP, Surachai later was given a quota to supply
smuggled cattle to slaughterhouses in Kanchanaburi and Nakhon
Pathom, where 40 percent of his income was paid as kickbacks to
local policemen, the source said.
Being able to dominate the beef market, Surachai moved on to illegal
log trading. He jointly set up a sawmill in Sangkhla Buri with a former
provincial councillor to process the illegally-felled logs, trucked to the
mill by the policemen who took bribes.
In 1993, Surachai began to deal in amphetamines. A military source
said he was known to be the boss of Jo Danchang, a victim in the
extra-judicial killing of drug traffickers in Suphan Buri by a police team
headed by Salang Bunnag, a former deputy police chief, last year.
The source said amphetamines were sent by cattle and log trucks, by
speed boats plying between Sangkhla Buri and Thong Pha Phum, and
by luxury sedans. Delivery vehicles were heavily guarded by police
cars and that was why the drug could easily smuggled through police
checkpoints, he said.
Surachai had three close aides who were policemen to help take care
of the illegal businesses. The fugitive also had established links with a
logging mafia in Kanchanaburi and with some military officers, whom
he had given several hundred rai of land in Sangkhla Buri and Thong
Pha Phum to bribe them to turn a blind eye to the trafficking of cattle,
logs, cannabis and amphetamines.
A familiar face in Kanchanaburi, town residents hardly believed the
man who made headlines on Oct 15 could be blacklisted as one of 20
major drug dealers.
"Bang Ron was very polite and humble. He was always the first to
offer a wai to the people he knew," a villager said.
Surachai on the bright side was a kind-hearted rich Muslim who liked
to make big donations to Buddhist temples, Christian churches and
child welfare centres in the provinces.
He also was "the vendors' darling", as he never bargained and even
paid extra sums for the merchandise he really liked such as wooden
"He always dressed well. He loved hot and spicy food in Sangkhla
Buri market and always paid four or five times more for the bill," the
Surachai had two Mon wives in Sangkhla Buri.
Rumours spread almost immediately about Surachai's hide-outs after
his escape. Some sources said he was seen at the border and some
others said he was hiding at a safe house of a military general. Some
unconfirmed reports said he had already been killed by certain groups
of people who feared his arrest would lead to the exposure of their
involvement in the amphetamine trade.
Chances of Surachai being found - dead or alive - , however, were
slim, as the search teams apparently have gone their own way.
The military source said that among the 10 hunting squads, the 13th
Border Patrol Police unit and the task force of the 9th Infantry
Division of the Surasi Army Camp, both based in Kanchanaburi, had
the most advantages because they could travel inside Burma.
But intelligence information has never been shared to police forces
from Bangkok and some other provinces, which knew little about the
geography of the Kanchanaburi border areas.
The police also were concerned that crossing the border in pursuit of
Surachai could affect Thailand's relations with Burma.
Funding from the government for the search mission was also
inadequate, the source said.
He said that while the hunters were in the dark, Surachai himself may
have already exercised his influence over the villagers and authorities
to obtain inside information so he would be able to change his hiding
The only threat to Surachai's life now is a group of 10 men who
claimed to be Interior Ministry officials, who have been in Burma since
Intelligence officials believed they were hired by big guns in the drug
ring to silence Surachai.
© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 1998
Last Modified: Sun, Nov 8, 1998
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