'Drug kingpin' busted in Phuket

The arrest in Phuket of an American man and five other suspects for allegedly running an international drug trafficking network was conducted as part of a joint operation with Nigeria and Kenya, police say.

  • Published: 27/09/2013 at 12:15 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Joseph Manuel Hunter, 47, the drug network's alleged leader, and five suspected accomplices were arrested in Phuket on Wednesday evening and flown to Bangkok Thursday for questioning.

Four of the six suspects capped by alleged kingpin trafficker American Joseph Manuel Hunter, 47 (right) are allegedly part of a suspected major drug gang with arms in America, Africa and Europe, in addition to Thailand and East Asia. (Photos by Apichit Jinakul)

Narcotics Suppression Division 1 commander Chaiya Rujjanavet said police forces in Nigeria and Kenya conducted similar operations on the same day. Two eastern European men were arrested in Nigeria and two others in Kenya.

Narcotics police arrested Mr Hunter at the Phuket Country Club, after he was identified by US officials.

The same team of police then searched for additional suspects in the Patong Beach area, leading to the arrest of five more people - two Britons, a Slovakian, a Filipino and a Taiwanese.

Deputy police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang called Mr Hunter a "leading drug lord" wanted for drug smuggling, trafficking and other international crimes, which he did not specify.

"This group was considered to be a big network that spanned many countries," including Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, he said.

Mr Hunter served in the US Navy, and his alleged accomplices were also believed to have had military training, police said.

"All these people were trained to kill," Pol Lt Gen Somyot told reporters at a police airport in Bangkok, where the suspects were flown Thursday from Phuket.

Pol Maj Gen Chaiya said the four eastern European men departed Phuket on Monday to travel to Nigeria and Kenya to contact their drug networks.

Pol Maj Gen Chaiya said he believed they were also working as assassins.

The covert operation to swoop on the gang was conducted after the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) had worked closely with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Mr Hunter was on the DEA's most wanted list.

The US embassy in Thailand had asked the Foreign Ministry to contact the police forces to arrest the men.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said Thursday the ministry had received a letter from the US embassy on Sept 17. The ministry then asked the Office of the Attorney-General to seek arrest warrants for the suspects.

Pol Maj Gen Tanai Apichartseni, a commander attached to the NSB, who also joined the raid, said there was no warrant for Mr Hunter but Thai police were able to arrest him as his passport had been revoked by the US. Due to the revocation of his passport, Thai authorities have the option of deporting him immediately.

Pol Maj Gen Tanai said Mr Hunter will be deported to stand trial in the US on drug trafficking charges.

He will be taken into custody at the US embassy in Thailand Saturday.

"The arrested four European men are killers and bodyguards of Hunter. This group is considered to be a major drug network. They mainly sell ice [crystal methamphetamine] and cocaine," Pol Maj Gen Chaiya said.

He said the network spanned many countries including Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

A warrant for Mr Hunter's arrest was issued by the New York Southern District Court on July 17, according to Pol Gen Priewphan Damapong, adviser to the NSB chief.

Mr Hunter arrived in Phuket on Sept 6 and had stayed there since. The US embassy was advised of his trip to Thailand and contacted Thai authorities.

Sources said Thai investigators had worked closely with US officials in a highly classified operation.

Local police units and officials were not made aware of the operation.

Pol Maj Gen Chaiya said police had made a great deal of progress cracking down on the gang in Thailand.

He said he was certain that no more members of the gang remained in the country. He said, however, that many more network members are believed to be staying in several other Asean countries.

NSB commissioner Chaiwat Chotima said initial investigations indicated Mr Hunter was the leader of outlawed motorcycle gangs in many countries including Thailand and the US.

Pol Lt Gen Chaiwat said Mr Hunter was involved in many illegal activities.

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Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham &Anucha Charoenpo

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