Thamanat dismisses 'drug past' report
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Captain Thamanat Prompow has shrugged off a report by an Australian media outlet which challenged his accounts of his role in the smuggling of 3.2 kilogrammes of heroin that landed him in a Sydney jail in 1993.
"I have read it but I won't clarify or counter anything today as they do not understand the system," he told Thai media yesterday.
The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday published an investigative report about the case based on court documents, titled "From Sinister to Minister: politician's drug trafficking jail time revealed".
In July, when news emerged that the Palang Pracharath MP for Phayao province might be allocated a minister's seat, there were questions about his suitability. The fact that he changed his names several times further complicated the issue and made verifying his claims almost impossible, until SMH found details about the case in "a six-inch stack of news briefs" and began investigating, the paper said.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam had said back then the case did not have a bearing on his qualifications as a minister, because he had not been found guilty by a Thai court.
Capt Thamanat also held a briefing in July explaining that the heroin charges against him in Australia were "minor offences" and that he was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time".
He said the drug case in 1993 was a "misunderstanding" as he was only an innocent bystander.
The [Australian] court's decision to acquit him and all other suspects after he was held in prison for eight months was proof of his innocence, he said.
He said he was detained by police along with four other people while staying at a close friend's apartment in Sydney. The apartment owner had some friends over that day and the arrest was carried out only moments after the guests arrived, he added.
"I was later charged on suspicion of being involved in a drug gang, but not for dealing," he said.
After his acquittal, he was freed but required to complete six months of community service.
After his release, he started a business producing tissue paper in New South Wales until he was deported to Thailand despite having committed no immigration violation nor being suspected of criminal activities, he said in July.
But the SMH reported yesterday that Capt Thamanat, who went by the name 2nd Lt Manat Bophlom at the time, was among the key members of the gang. The report cited court files detailing police reports, some of which had been obtained by using listening devices in a Sydney hotel room where the gang members met.
Contrary to his claims, Capt Thamanat knew what was being smuggled and had earlier helped to arrange a visa and bought a plane ticket for a drug courier, read the article.
After he was arrested in Sydney, along with his half-brother and two Australian smugglers -- Sam Calabrese and Mario Constantino -- he was charged with conspiracy to import heroin and refused bail.
The report said he first denied the charges and was sentenced to nine years in jail. He later confessed and was sentenced to six years in jail.
The documents also suggest he had friends in high places even back then.
"Manat's deep connections in Thailand were underlined when he produced character references from a judge and a police lieutenant-colonel who each said he 'always has good behaviours [sic], honesty and is reliable'," the article said.
Capt Thamanat and his half-brother were released on April 14, 1997 and immediately deported.
He apparently was not sent back home because of "a policy of the then-mayor of not welcoming foreigners with no permanent residencies", as he said during the July briefing, the Australian media said.
It is generally recognised that Capt Thamanat's is a coalition coordinator. He once told reporters that without him, "the coalition would collapse".