Myanmar tycoon cleared of drug and laundering charges

Myanmar tycoon cleared of drug and laundering charges

Court says police evidence of money trail inconclusive in case also linked to Thai senator

The Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
The Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

The Criminal Court has acquitted Myanmar tycoon Tun Min Latt, a son-in-law of Senator Upakit Pachirangkun and three others of drug trafficking, money laundering and other charges, saying the evidence gathered by police was insufficient to show wrongdoing.

Four of the defendants in the case were individuals and the fifth was Myanmar Allure Group, a company controlled by Senator Upakit, who is facing trial on money laundering charges later this year.

Much of the evidence related to money transfers channelled through a single currency exchange branch that was used by both suspected drug traffickers and companies affiliated with Allure Group.

Ruengsak Suksiangsri, the lawyer who represented the senator’s son-in-law, Dean Young Gultula, said Tuesday’s ruling would set a precedent for police to examine details more closely before seeking arrest warrants.

Mr Ruengsak, who also represents Sen Upakit, said he would use the ruling to fight the case against his client.

Tun Min Latt, a wealthy businessman with close ties to Myanmar’s military junta, was arrested in Bangkok on Sept 17, 2022 along with Mr Dean. They and their co-accused — Allure Group and two Thai women, Namhom Nettrakun and Piyada Kamta — were facing a total of 32 charges, including drug trafficking, money laundering and involvement in a transnational criminal organisation.

The five defendants and their accomplices who remained at large, along with some defendants sentenced earlier by the Thanyaburi Provincial Court, were accused of working together to acquire large quantities of speed pills between February and May 2019.

Prosecutors said the defendants were responsible for money deposits and withdrawals, as well as transfers of funds from the drug trade to accounts linked with Allure Group. Allure allegedly laundered money from the sales of drugs to buy electricity from the Provincial Electricity Authority in Chiang Rai province, which was resold to buyers in neighbouring Myanmar. (Story continues below)

Wichai Chaimongkol, secretary-general of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), shows a chart detailing the alleged drug trafficking network of Myanmar tycoon Tun Min Latt during a briefing on March 22 last year. (Captured from video by the ONCB)

Currency exchange connection

During the three-hour reading of their ruling in a packed courtroom, the judges explained in detail the money trail and other evidence from six drug networks linked to a single currency exchange shop in the Chiang Rai border town of Mae Sai. Businesses in the Allure Group used the services of the same exchange, which was credible and operating legally, they said.

Witnesses linked to the six drug networks said they had not known the five defendants, the court noted. The latter were not present when the other drug suspects were arrested.

Witnesses from other businesses testified that they used the same currency exchange shop to transfer funds to pay for goods and services. The shop was especially busy during the Covid-19 pandemic as the border area was closed.

All told, the exchange had 500 accounts, 22 of which were said to have been linked to the drug trade.

When the first to fourth defendants were arrested, their companies continued to use the same payment service, said the court. This seemed unusual if the businesses were really involved with the drug trade.

After examining the evidence, the court said it could not be determined that all five defendants had been involved in drug trafficking and a transnational crime organisation. The evidence submitted by the defendants was able to completely refute that submitted by prosecutors, it said, and dismissed the case.

The prosecution can still appeal the ruling.

On hearing the ruling, relatives of the defendants stood up, clapped and cheered loudly. Many burst into tears and hugged the defendants.

Mr Ruengsak said the money trail in the case spread to other businesses, not only Myanmar Allure Group, but prosecutors had focused on that one company and the four individuals.

Other businesses such as the Carabao energy drinks firm and international schools received money from the same currency exchange, said the lawyer.

The trial of Sen Upakit, 62, is scheduled to begin on May 13 with witness examination. He is currently free on bail of 10 million baht, with a condition that he not leave the country without prior permission.

The senator has repeatedly denied allegations linking him to the crimes of which Tun Min Latt was accused. But prosecutors decided in December to indict him after a lengthy investigation.

The Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) has confiscated assets worth a total of about 760 million baht from the senator in connection with the case.

Tun Min Latt, who has interests in hotels, energy and mining, and has a history of procuring supplies for the Myanmar military, is a close associate of Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

When police raided his Bangkok condominium in 2022, they found assets, including title deeds and bank books belong to Min Aung Hlaing’s daughter and son.

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