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Friends in high places
November 29, 1998
Friends in high
NARCOTICS: Wealthy, well-connected,
and one step ahead of the law, illegal drug
traffickers are cashing in on a booming
Against the usual quiet of the middle-class neighbourhood of Soi Na
Tab off Lieb Vari Road in Nong Jork, on the outskirts of Bangkok, a
sound like gunfire was heard in the middle of the night of October 14
and continued until half an hour later. Most of the neighbours went
back to sleep, muttering something about firecrackers.
The next morning, however, newspaper headlines reported that the
blasts came from a fierce gunfight between police and a drug
trafficking gang at house number 74/1 in village group 9 of Nong Jork.
In the resulting chaos, drug baron Surachai Ngoenthongfou,
nicknamed Bang Ron, managed to escape the police dragnet.
The media detailed how the 38-year-old Bang Ron abandoned his
house and four bodyguards in the middle of the gunfight.
Three of them - 40-year-old Kordet Suksawai, 32-year-old Prasart
Sukho, and 28-year-old Wongkot Kasemsak - were wounded.
When the police finally entered the house and arrested the three,
36-year-old Adul Polja was dead on the floor.
It was "a little disappointing", as one police officer said, that the
mission to capture one of the country's most wanted amphetamine
dealers had failed.
Connections discovered: Despite its shortcomings, the mission did
seize a considerable stash of illegal drugs. A search of the house
revealed 758,000 tablets of amphetamine, known locally as yaa baa
After years of keeping the name under wraps, the police finally
revealed Bang Ron's identity to the media as one of the top 20 drug
dealers on the police blacklist.
Bang Ron reportedly dealt with various types of illegal substances until
he shifted to amphetamine trafficking.
The police also revealed that behind Bang Ron were several
high-ranking policemen, army officers and connections with influential
"We found evidence at Bang Ron's house that proves connections
between uniformed men and officials involved in his network," said a
narcotics suppression police officer.
House of cards: A few days later, Pol Col Marut Channual, chief of
Nong Jork police station, was transferred out of the district. The
reason was that his negligence led to inappropriate connections
between his subordinates and the narcotics trade via Bang Ron's gang.
He has not been charged.
His subordinates, Pol Capt Suthin Sri-udom, deputy investigation chief
of Nong Jork police station, and Pol Sgt Nithest Saengrit of the same
station were sacked. They face charges in connection with illegal drug
The Bang Ron connection spreads far beyond policemen in Nong
Jork into the offices of ranking police officers in Kanchanaburi
province, near the Burmese border.
Subsequent moves include the arrest of Pol Maj Sompong Ningnuek,
chief investigator of Kanchanaburi's Thong Pha Phum police station.
He was dismissed from the police force and charged with providing
protection for transportation of Bang Ron's drug supplies from
Kanchanaburi to Bangkok on several occasions.
His superior, Thong Pha Phum district police chief Pol Col Kongsak
Tirasuk, was transferred to inactive duty in Nakhon Pathom. He was
accused of negligence in the line of duty that allowed his subordinate's
involvement in a crime.
Subsequent leads pointed to a wide network of connections among
In Lam Phak Chi, a suburb of Bangkok, chief police investigator Pol
Maj Sawong Phukokwai was arrested and dismissed for abuse of
authority. He had helped Bang Ron's gang members when they were
arrested on various cases of drug-related charges.
Late in November last year, Pol Maj Sawong arrested Vivat Tokou, a
Bang Ron gang member, for possession of 169 tablets of yaa baa.
However, he failed to submit the case to the public prosecutor.
The police also arrested army sergeant Vitoon Klinkhachorn for
trafficking drugs for Bang Ron. He was dismissed from the army.
Influential connections: These transfers and arrests all resulted from
strong evidence gathered by investigators following the attack on Bang
Ron house on the night of October 14. "There are more people that
are strongly connected to the Bang Ron gang," a high ranking
narcotics suppression officer told Sunday Perspec tive. "But we need
to have concrete evidence before we can arrest them."
The officer showed the blacklist to Sunday Perspective to reveal
several provincial policemen and border policemen in Sangkhla Buri
district of Kanchanaburi.
Apart from uniformed officials, the narcotic suppression police are
closely watching state officials. Kamnan (sub-district chiefs) and
phuyai baan (village chiefs) in Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi and Tak are
"Some may be gang members, while others may be clients of Bang
Ron who bought drugs for distribution," the police officer said.
Meanwhile, the police are convinced they have enough material
evidence to conclude that drug trafficking is a large and influential
business. The list found during the raid proves that the illegal drug
trade is indeed linked to offices within the government, including the
police, the armed forces, the civil service and local administration
Increasingly high numbers: Those who make it their business to
fight the illegal narcotics trade feel that a completely successful drug
suppression programme is an impossible dream.
"We're fighting a many-headed dragon," they say.
When Thailand's military strongman, Marshal Sarit Thanarat, banned
the opium trade in 1968, everyone thought it was a good start. The
ban aimed to end opium cultivation, trade and consumption. Today,
30 years later, the country's drug problem remains. Opium remains
widely available, as are other, more dangerous drugs.
Recent years have seen Thailand invaded by an ever new line of illegal
narcotics, including cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride), crack (cocaine
base), ice (methamphetamine crystal), CAT (methcathinone), Ecstacy,
(also known as 'E', Adam' and ETC), Blue Ice (methylaminorex) and
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamine).
The number of drug addicts in Thailand continues to rise. The 1990
statistics at the Police Narcotic Suppression Division show 1,297 yaa
baa traffickers were arrested that year. In 1991, this went up to
1,775. By 1994, the arrests totalled 3,973.
Authorities claim the increase is not only caused by the effects of drug
suppression operations, but also by an increased activity in drug
trafficking as demand soars.
The spread of yaa baa last year is indicated by the seven million yaa
baa tablets seized by various state agencies. Officials believe this
year's figures will be no less.
"That number is only 15 or 20 percent of the real volume of pills in the
market that year," a police officer told Sunday Perspective. A larger
volume is believed to have been spread not only to labourers, truck
drivers and party animals, but also among school children.
A 1994 research paper by the Narcotic Research Centre concluded
that some 2.2 million people in Thailand were addicted to various
kinds of drugs. Last year's figures show a three-fold increase of seven
million people. Almost half of the addicts use yaa baa, the researchers
Diverse clientele: Roughly 170,000 truck drivers deliver various
merchandise and goods throughout the country in the evenings,
requiring them to remain alert throughout long, boring, nighttime hauls.
"At least half of them (85,000) use yaa baa," a highway police officer
told Sunday Perspective.
Police interviews reveal that a truck driver usually drops at least two
tablets a day on average. At the going rate of about 100 baht per
tablet, this group spends some 8.5 million baht a day. Official
estimates put the entire truck driver population is shelling out up to 17
million baht a day for pills.
The Narcotics Research Institute said that of this year's seven million
drug users, half (3.5 million) are children in secondary schools and
universities. Researchers found that children drop about one tablet a
day, which would give the illegal drug industry a markets of roughly
350 million baht a day, or about 127 billion baht a year.
Between these two major groups of drug abusers, the narcotics trade
makes an annual haul of about 250 billion baht.
Rags to riches: In the high-end illegal drug market, the top-line
products of cocaine, crack, ice, CAT, Ecstacy, blue ice or LSD also
command top prices, with a single tablet going for as much as 1,200
Not surprisingly, police investigators say these drug are sold to
"Drug abuse is found in every class of society," a top police narcotics
suppression officer told Sunday Per spective.
"This is a society of money, and the drug industry is easy money," he
An illustration of this is Bang Ron, who remains at large. He is one of
many who have moved from poverty to wealth through the illegal drug
Several police sources reveal that Bang Ron, born a poor farmer, is
worth more than 100 million baht today. He is 38 years old.
A police file reveals that Bang Ron was born to a farming family in a
Muslim community of Nong Jork. He farmed rice until he was 20,
when he decided to become a driver for the Bangkok Mass Transit
Organisation due to the poor income he earned from farming.
A few years later, he got married, started driving a taxi, and
frequented an underground casino in the King Phetch area of
Bangkok. "Not as a customer but as a member of a protection gang,"
said a police source.
It was at the casino that Bang Ron built his connections within the drug
trafficking industry. In 1996, his name entered police files as a major
drug trafficker. Two years later, on the night of October 14, police
decided to nab him at his residence.
By this time, Bang Ron's luxurious house, worth about 20 million baht,
also housed ten luxury cars. His businesses included a furniture
factory, a sawmill, and a tourist resort in Kanchanaburi.
Police say these businesses are fronts for his drug business.
Today, the police remain unable to locate Bang Ron. Many believe
that the drug baron has more than enough money to elude arrest while
living a very comfortable life.
*Next week: Analysis of the spread of drug abuse in Thailand.
© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 1998
Last Modified: Sun, Nov 29, 1998
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