CHIANG MAI – After a two year manhunt, Narcotics Suppression Police have finally arrested Laota Sanlee, a controversial and colorful former guerrilla fighter long accused of playing a key role in the Golden Triangles infamous drugs trade.
Acting commissioner of the Narcotics Suppression BureauPol Maj-Gen Sommai Kongvisaisook, told a press meeting that Mr.Laota Sanlee was allegedly caught trying to sell 20 kilograms of crystal meth to undercover officers from his home in a village on Thailand’s border with Myanmar.
The arrest of Laota and his men followed a sting operation in which undercover police, posing as buyers, offered to buy 20 kgs of crystal meth worth about 10 million baht from Laotaâ€™s gang and subsequent police raids.
Pol Maj-Gen Sommai said that it was very difficult for police to approach Laota because he was always surrounded by many Hmong tribesmen until Wednesday when police managed to nab him.
He said if Laota is allowed to go on with his illicit drug business, the latter would one day become a politician because he has many followers among his Hmong tribesmen and also money.
Laota allegedly operates several legitimate businesses from drug money which include hotel, restaurants, gas stations and housing estates in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces.
Laota has been arrested before but authorities have never managed to make drug trafficking charges stick. In the early 2000s he spent four years in jail on trafficking charges but was acquitted in 2007.
In a 2011 interview with the Bangkok Post he gave details of his remarkable life.
An ethnic Lisu, a minority from southwest China, Laota said he joined the anti-communist Kuomintang as a child soldier and rose up through the ranks.
He later fought against Thailand’s communist insurgency in the 1970s in exchange for sanctuary.
His village home lies just across the border from Myanmar territory controlled by the powerful United Wa State Army, a rebel militia accused of being major drug producers and traffickers.
In the 2011 interview he said he knew Wei Hsueh-kang, a Wa commander with a $2 million United States bounty on his head.
But he denied ever being involved in drug trafficking himself and said he simply traded petrol, food and other supplies with the group.
Law enforcement agencies have warned that drug production in the Golden Triangle has increased in recent years, with surging methamphetamine smuggling now adding to the traditional illicit opium trade.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), meth seizures in East and Southeast Asia near quadrupled between 2009-2014. Opium production has tripled in the last ten years.