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Northern Thailand Drug Czars Son in Law Captured in Chiang Mai After 16 Years on the Run

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BANGKOK – The son-in-law of northern drug Czar Laota Sanlee who has evaded arrest on charges of possession of 336 grams of heroin and 20 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine for almost 16 years has been captured in Chiang Mai’s Mae Ai district.

Somchai Sanmee, 50, was brought to a press conference on Friday at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) in Bangkok.

Pol Gen Chaloemkiat Sriworakhan, deputy national police chief, who was at the press briefing, said Mr Somchai, who had been wanted in connection with drug possession since 2003, was caught by Chiang Mai police on Wednesday at a house in tambon Tha Ton.

A police source said Mr Somchai had been in hiding with an ethnic minority group in Myanmar but recently returned to the country and rented a house in tambon Tha Ton.

Police also found 390,000 baht in cash hidden in the house’s roof, the source said.

Mr Laota was arrested in 2016 by police in a major coordinated operation in Mae Ai, Fang and Muang districts of Chiang Mai. He was apprehended together with 13 others for drug smuggling. The Criminal Court sentenced him to life imprisonment. His case is now being heard in the Appeal Court.

NSB police arrested Mr Laota and the other suspects at a petrol station in Mae Ai district when they allegedly delivered 20kg of crystal meth, or “ice”, to undercover police. Weapons were also seized.

The operation was planned for a year after informants told the bureau that Mr Laota, who was earlier acquitted in a controversial drug case, had begun trafficking drugs again.

Mr Laota, 79, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2007 after being arrested four years earlier and fighting a long legal battle against claims he was involved in heroin trafficking. The court acquitted him because prosecutors “lacked solid evidence”.

It was widely believed that Mr Laota used to work with Khun Sa, a notorious drug lord renowned as one of the key players in the Golden Triangle.

The Shan-Chinese Khun Sa, who led the Mong Tai Army, an armed ethnic group that fought against the Myanmar government for many years, surrendered in 1996 and died in 2007 in Yangon.

By Apichart Jinakul
The Bangkok Post