The big issue: Toy story

The big issue: Toy story

PLAYING WITH FIRE: A Thai soldier uses a GT200 detector as he patrols the streets of Yala, in the restive southern Thailand. (AFP photo)
PLAYING WITH FIRE: A Thai soldier uses a GT200 detector as he patrols the streets of Yala, in the restive southern Thailand. (AFP photo)

It was nearly eight years ago that two clever green shirts masterminded the “hidden coup” that persuaded important members of the inner circle of Lord Voldemort na Dubai to defect to Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrats and make Mr Abhisit prime minister.

The cause and effect, if any, is supposedly under a stagnant investigation. It involves why then-army commander Gen Anupong Paojinda and his chief of staff Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha began the outlandish purchases of fake bomb and drug detectors. This is now imprecisely but colourfully called the GT200 scandal, after the best known of these million-baht toys.

Gen Prayut's support and claimed faith in the plastic doo-dads were key to the military purchases and to stifling the voices of frustrated reporters, scientists, politicians (including the prime minister) and just plain citizens who saw right through the expensive trick.

Through 2009 and into 2010, the chief of staff’s office spearheaded the purchases of 757 Ouija board-type devices. As always, the true cost was hidden in a system where purchases were made by army-approved businessmen and women, who then added (usually usurious) “agents’ fees” and billed this risk-free, cost-plus price to the armed forces. Officially, taxpayers were bilked out of 1.3 billion baht. Or so. Unofficially? As The X-Files claims, “The truth is out there”, but the DSI and NACC have so far not wanted to know.

The GT200 case was a unique scandal because the devices at the centre seemed to fool only the people closely connected to their sale and purchase.

Britain and the US issued vociferous warnings of the con game, with blanket bans on military purchases. As always, the army’s band of brothers stood as one, insisting not only that the divining rod-class toys had uncovered bombs but had also detected insurgents and separatists by the explosives residue on their clothing. Off to the feared and fabled “interrogation rooms” of the deep South, run by the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), went those hapless innocents.

Others were in even more denial than Gen Prayut and his fellow green shirts. The British con men peddling fake devices to credulous or corrupt officers worldwide then widened their aim from military to law enforcement.

If the army’s stubborn belief in the paranormal was strange, things got much weirder with the Alpha 6. This magic device, in a different looking 60-baht plastic case, was supposedly able to detect every kind of illicit drug and came (at astounding prices) with chip cards for heroin, marijuana, cocaine, ya ba and more. The cards could be purchased individually after the initial 900,000-baht outlay for the basic “detectors”.

The commander of Prime Minister Abhisit’s Office of Narcotics Control Board, Pol Lt Gen Krissana Phon-anan, forked over 197.6 million of the public’s tax baht for 479 of them — a bulk-purchase discount down to 412,526 baht apiece by the generous British criminals. He enthused the detectors were so good he could get rid of the entire kennel of drug-sniffing dogs. Shown that he had been conned into buying fakes, Pol Lt Gen Krissana cited the strongest force in the universe: denial.

But by 2010, the divining-rod devices became a huge public issue. Every thinking person now knew they were fake. Prime Minister Abhisit, thankful and dependent for his power by the men purchasing and defending GT200s, was a public sceptic. However, he refused to order a stop to the harm they were doing, including deaths when the devices wrongly indicated “no bombs here”.

The low point was arguably when the army brought out esteemed criminal forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan. With no shred of expertise on security, technology or confidence tricks, she was flattered into issuing a statement on how wonderful the devices worked. A soap opera star would have been as credible.

The DSI and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) opened criminal and corruption investigations. They claimed to be serious. Their files are still open, and as active as the search for the Red Bull heir.

Ironically, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Mr Abhisit’s defence minister and a huge defender of the GT200 although he never used one in a danger zone, reopened the moribund cases. He thinks Britain should pay Thailand some of the profits seized from convicted con artist James McCormick.

The names of Gen Prawit, his present boss and the current interior minster are the three most prominent in those mouldering investigative files. The DSI and NACC will no doubt redouble efforts to find out whether they got conned by smooth-talking British swindlers, or whether the collusion was more complicated than that.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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