US nabs 'yakuza chief', 3 Thais buying weapons for rebels

US nabs 'yakuza chief', 3 Thais buying weapons for rebels

This picture taken on January 31, 2015, shows soldiers from the Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, parading as part of celebrations marking the 66th Karen Revolution Day at their headquarters in Myanmar's eastern Kayin state. (File photo: AFP)
This picture taken on January 31, 2015, shows soldiers from the Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, parading as part of celebrations marking the 66th Karen Revolution Day at their headquarters in Myanmar's eastern Kayin state. (File photo: AFP)

United States authorities said on Thursday they had arrested a Japanese organised crime leader and three Thai men who were trafficking heroin and methamphetamine while also trying to acquire weaponry for rebel groups in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Takeshi Ebisawa and the three Thais -- Sompak Rukrasaranee, Somphob Singhasiri and Suksan Jullanan -- were arrested in New York on Monday and Tuesday on narcotics and arms trafficking and money laundering charges, the Justice Department said.

Under investigation by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Thailand since at least 2019, the men had arranged to sell large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine from Myanmar's rebel United Wa State Army to an undercover agent.

Mr Ebisawa also sought to buy automatic weapons, rockets, machine guns and surface-to-air missiles for Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Myanmar's Karen National Union, Shan State Army as well as United Wa State Army.

In early February 2021, Mr Ebisawa and an associate travelled to Copenhagen where the undercover DEA agent and two plainclothes Danish police officers showed them an array of US military arms ostensibly for sale, including machine guns and anti-tank rockets.

They also showed Mr Ebisawa photos and a video of Stinger missiles used to target aircraft.

"We allege Mr Ebisawa and his co-conspirators brokered deals with an undercover DEA agent to buy heavy-duty weaponry and sell large quantities of illegal drugs," the Justice Department said.

"The drugs were destined for New York streets, and the weapons shipments were meant for factions in unstable nations."

Mr Ebisawa, the department said, was "a leader of the yakuza transnational organised crime syndicate", using an umbrella term for a number of Japanese crime families.

Mr Jullanan has dual Thai-American citizenship.

During the investigation, Mr Ebisawa told the undercover DEA agent that Mr Jullanan was a Thai air force general and that Mr Rukrasaranee was a retired Thai military officer, according to the indictment.

The Bangkok Post has contacted the Royal Thai Police, but they declined to comment.


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