AN alleged Laos drug lord linked to some of Thailand’s rich and famous denied being a major player in the regional narcotics trade when he appeared in a Bangkok court yesterday.
Xaysana Keopimpha, 42, was arrested by Thai police on his way through Bangkok’s main airport in January, shining a rare spotlight on the shadowy role Laos plays in the Southeast Asian drug trade.
Narcotics police alleged he was an “international drug kingpin” and trumpeted his capture in a part of the world where major cartel figures are not big names in criminal folklore and are rarely caught.
The heavy-set Xaysana faces charges including drug smuggling and possession, mainly of methamphetamine, which is known in Thai as “yaba” or crazy medicine.
“He denies all the charges,” said his lawyer Vorakon Phongtanakul, adding his client had also backtracked on a confession he allegedly signed in police custody. “He didn’t understand Thai laws and officials told him he could change his plea at court,” Vorakon said.
Under Thai law the maximum penalty for drug smuggling is death though the country has not executed anyone for years.
Xaysana’s arrest drew widespread coverage in Thailand after police said a string of celebrities, including a soap opera star, and wealthy individuals were linked to his smuggling network.
Thai police have linked him to a massive seizure of 1.2 million methamphetamine pills made shortly before his arrest. Such pills are hugely popular across Southeast Asia.
The Golden Triangle, a region in the borderlands of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and southern China, is the world’s second largest drug-producing region after Latin America.
Thai police say Xaysana flaunted his wealth, owning a string of luxury sports cars and traveling frequently to Bangkok where he held parties for members of the city’s elite.