Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thailand targeting narco millions hidden in crypto



Thailand targeting narco millions hidden in crypto

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An armed officer of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau guards some of the 25 tonnes of confiscated drugs from court cases which were incinerated to mark the United Nations' "International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking" at Bang Pa-In industrial estate in Ayutthaya on Friday. AFP

Thailand targeting narco millions hidden in crypto

The downfall of a methamphetamine syndicate laundering tens of millions of dollars of drug money through Thai gold shops, oil and construction firms have cast rare light on the staggering scale of Asia’s narco profits – and the ruses used to hide them.

Thailand is Southeast Asia’s meth “superhighway”, with drugs from remote Myanmar labs pouring through the border destined for the local market or overseas as far as Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Prices have dropped as the drug labs ramp up production of yaba – the tiny caffeinated pink or green pills guzzled by Southeast Asian truck drivers to clubbers – and the more expensive and highly addictive crystal meth known as “ice”.

Millions are hooked on drugs in Thailand, where prisons are stuffed with petty dealers and addicts.

But the drug lords remain beyond reach, hidden behind a web of middlemen and complex money laundering schemes.

Authorities say they are finally ready to change the game by going after drug money sloshing through Thai banks, construction businesses and cryptocurrency accounts.

Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsuthin told reporters last week: “We have found an irregular flow in the banks of 170 billion baht [$5.5 billion] – it may not all be drugs.

“But we are confident there is at least 12 billion baht in drug-related assets – drug money is being turned into gold, zinc [panels], steel rods and oil.”

Thailand’s get-tough message follows the recent unspooling of several networks, who bought oil with drug profits and traded it on international markets as well as transforming dirty money into construction materials for sale such as steel pipes, roofing and machinery.

The main group was allegedly controlled by Daoreung Somseang, a Thai woman already in custody in a Bangkok prison on trafficking offences.

Police allege she still ran a drug empire which spanned the country using gold shops and construction companies to clean at least $100 million cash through 113 accounts to move the money.

It is a cycle of drug production, trafficking and laundering that generates untold billions and turns a secondary economy of cryptocurrency, supercars and plush overseas properties.

Lieutenant-General Wissanu Prasartthong-osod, assistant to Thailand’s police chief, said: “It’s impossible to guess the real amount these drug networks are making.”

But the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC’s) Jeremy Douglas said the Daoreung’s dexterity in laundering shows the “scale and sophistication of the networks.

“This one is not even a super-syndicate . . . it’s mid-sized but is still moving a massive volume of money.”

On Friday, Thai authorities burned seized drugs worth $1.7 billion – another batch worth $800 million was incinerated in Myanmar – during an annual parade of law enforcement successes across the region.

But the record amounts are just a sliver of the money on the table for Asia’s meth lords, who emerge from drug crackdowns by raising production and piercing borders with corruption.

The UNODC estimates they are making between $30-$60 billion a year and are the biggest meth producers in the world.

The meth is produced in the “Golden Triangle” – cutting across northern Thailand, Laos, China and Myanmar – where armed rebels are the law and drug lords lease jungle labs under their protection.

The market-leading syndicate is believed to be the “Sam Gor” group, dominated by Chinese gangsters who control at least 40 per cent of Asia’s meth – sending their signature tea packets stuffed with “ice” across the Asia-Pacific region.

Asian organised crime is stealthier than its violent and showy Latin American peers, operating in anonymity across countries with long, porous borders, corruptible police, and large domestic markets of drug users.

To unwind the money trail, Thailand has been working with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), whose skills were honed in the fight with the Latin American cartels.

But crime experts warn police must be ready to follow the money wherever it leads if they are to get close to the heads of the criminal chain.

The UNODC’s Douglas added: “The message is you can’t just stop at the drug seizure.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Companies listed on CSX receive 50% deduction on income tax

    Tax incentives are granted to companies that have listed their shares or issued debt securities on the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX), whether they are small to medium-sized enterprises or large companies. The nine stock listed companies on the CSX – with seven listed on the Main

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Cambodia mourns over UK’s Queen Elizabeth II

    Cambodia has joined other nations around the world to mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, with King Norodom Sihanomi, Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly president Heng Samrin extending their condolences in separate letters. In his letter to the late Queen’s son –

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Railway project studies proceed

    The transport ministry is exploring options to expedite preliminary studies on key public railway infrastructure projects, especially the conversion of the Northern Railway Line that links to Thailand into high-speed rail. Railway freight and passenger transportation has been pinpointed as a major potential engine of