Thai actors in spotlight over Xaysana drug probe

Thai actors in spotlight over Xaysana drug probe

NSB looking at drug kingpin's hi-so group

Soap opera star Anat Laphanit (left) and model-actor Akkhaphan 'Om' Namat are two of the show-biz celebrities caught up in the investigation of Lao drug kingpin Xaysana Keopimpha. (Publicity photos)
Soap opera star Anat Laphanit (left) and model-actor Akkhaphan 'Om' Namat are two of the show-biz celebrities caught up in the investigation of Lao drug kingpin Xaysana Keopimpha. (Publicity photos)

Police are considering summoning actors pictured in social media with suspected Laos drug lord Xaysana Keopimpha after images emerged in which he is posing with celebrities and some police officers.

The Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB), which has been assigned to find any irregularities in Mr Xaysana's circle of associates, will decide Monday whether it will question those who appear in the photos after meeting officials from the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) and the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo).

The NSB's probe will be based on evidence. "If they are found to have been involved with anyone crooked, they cannot avoid prosecution," deputy national police chief Pol Gen Chalermkiat Sriworakhan said Sunday. No one would be spared scrutiny by the law.

The move follows doubts over whether the actors -- Anat Laphanit, and Akkhaphan "Om" Namat -- knew Mr Xaysana was an alleged mastermind behind several drug trafficking rackets in Southeast Asia when the photos went viral online.

Singer Phiraphong Phonchana, better known as Tom Rainbow, also reportedly appeared in one of the photos.

Mr Akkhaphan's manager denied Sunday the actor knows Mr Xaysana, according to the Thai News Agency.

It is true Mr Akkhaphan once went to Laos to join a fashion show when many people asked him to take photos of them together, but "he didn't know who was who. The actor knew nobody personally", the manager said.

Mr Anat, who is reportedly in Japan, said Sunday he appears in a photo but insisted the other man is not Mr Xaysana.

The actor, who visited Laos two years ago, admitted he knows Mr Xaysana but had no idea about his allegedly illegal business.

"If he [Mr Xaysana] sells drugs, he never told me," Mr Anat said.

After Mr Xaysana's arrest on Jan 19 at Suvarnabhumi airport, investigators expanded their probe into celebrities suspected of involvement in Mr Xaysana's drug networks.

Speed racer Akarakit Worarojchroendet, the husband of TV actress Napapa "Patt" Tantrakul, is the first to have caught the police's attention after he was accused of owning a Lamborighini allegedly given by Mr Xaysana's drug gang.

Besides the celebrities, Pol Gen Chalerm­kiat added, the NSB will also look into a photo showing Mr Xaysana posing with a police officer. The photo was posted online by a Lao media agency.

There is also a report that "a son of a former politician" is involved in Mr Xaysana's gangs, said deputy NSB chief Pol Maj Gen Pornchai Charoenwong.

Further actions to deal with these people, including what officers describe as a "hi-so group", will become clearer after Monday's meeting, he said.

NSB chief Sommai Kongwisaisuk said his agency will determine whether those hi-so types, regardless of whether they are in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, had any involvement in Mr Xaisana's drug rings.

Mr Xaysana is also a wealthy bu­sinessman. He runs hotels, sawmills and luxury car dealingships, according to an initial investigation earlier unveiled by Pol Lt Gen Sommai.

Drug suspect Natthaphol Nakkham, who was nabbed on Feb 1 in connection with Mr Xaysana's drug networks, claimed the drug kingpin's gang trusted Mr Akarakit and left the 20-million-baht Lamborghini in his care.

The car, reportedly listed with a "Ko Cho 51 Bangkok" registration plate, is suspected of not having legally obtained a vehicle licence number.

According to media reports, the registration number belongs to a white Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 owned by a woman named Thanyarat Weeradecha, who registered her car with the Land Transport Department on May 19, 2001.

Ms Thanyarat, the daughter of a former police officer at Li police station in Lamphun's Li district, runs a garage for luxury cars in Bangkok.

Her Volkswagen is reportedly kept at the garage because of its broken gear system.

The Lamborghini in question is among the assets seized by police during their anti-drug operations in 39 target areas.

Police investigators are examining all of the items to determine whether they are related to Mr Xaysana's gangs.

One problem is their job is quite time consuming because "there are a lot of assets that need a thorough check", Pol Maj Gen Pornchai said.

Mr Xaysana is among nine drug suspects wanted on arrest warrants. He, together with another two suspects, have already been detained, leaving six others on the NSB's list, he said.

Monday's meeting will discuss the progress of the NSB's operations and shape its further investigation.

Pol Lt Gen Sommai is taking the drug issue seriously as Mr Xaysana's arrest has prompted concerns that Thailand is being used as a so-called "superhighway of drug trafficking" given its borders adjoin many countries in Southeast Asia.

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