Thamanat denies being key gang member

Thamanat denies being key gang member

Capt Thamanat Prompow answers reporters' questions at Government House on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Capt Thamanat Prompow answers reporters' questions at Government House on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow has denied having been a key member of a heroin smuggling gang in a 1993 case in Sydney as reported by Australian newspapers.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age published investigative reports on Monday saying the Palang Pracharath MP for Phayao province had been convicted and jailed for four years in Sydney in 1993 for conspiracy to import heroin. They also reported he was deported after being released.

Capt Thamanat told a briefing in Thailand in July a different version of the story and challenged everyone to check it with the Australian court.

In his version of the story, he was detained for eight months for being in the same room as some drug dealers and failed to inform police about it, an offence he claimed as minor.

But the SMH article, which it said was based on court documents, reported he was a key gang member who knew what was being smuggled, and arranged for a visa and plane ticket for a courier. It also reported he had confessed in exchange for a reduced penalty. 

On Tuesday, Capt Thamanat said he had already explained everything about the case and questioned the motive of the reports.

"There must be a reason for rewriting old news so comprehensively and I know what it is. But I have to handle this by myself," he said.

However, Capt Thamanat evaded the question of whether he was detained for eight months or jailed for four years.

"It’s part of what we had agreed with the Australian court and I’m not at liberty to say," he said.

He claimed to know the network behind the report and had told his lawyers to take civil and criminal action against it.

"Isn’t it strange that all of sudden the Australian newspapers attacked me out of the blue?"

He also denied having admitted to the crime. "I’ve never confessed. And I’ve never committed the crime as reported."

The 53-year-old politician said he was not the mastermind. "From now on I won’t respond to anyone who talks about my past. I’ll just take legal action against them."

Asked about the SMH’s statement the report was based on court documents, Capt Thamanat flatly said: "I don’t believe it. The story was written here [Thailand] and then sent abroad.

"Earlier, I was contacted by Michael Ruffles [the SMH journalist], and I told him this was old news. He sent me several emails. We have to check to which network Michael belongs," he said referring to the group of people he believes wanting to discredit him.

"From now on, I won’t talk anymore [about the case] and will move on to work for the people."

He also jokingly challenged his alleged adversaries to "open up their faces and exchange punches".

"Let’s not hide. I didn’t mean to literally pick a physical fight but let’s talk openly instead of digging into the past. Do we really want to sink in the past or live with the future?"

Asked whether he would resign, Capt Thamanat answered it with a question. "Why would I do that? A man like me lives with reality," he said, referring to his previous accusations that his opponents were "avatars" who exist mainly online and never show their faces.

"This is a personal affair. It doesn’t affect the cabinet’s image. Let’s see how well I can serve the people and the country."

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