LAMPANG – Police in Northern Thailand seized more than seven million methamphetamine tablets on Saturday following a dramatic car chase, highlighting how drugs continue to pour into the country from the notorious Golden Triangle region.
Investigators said three speeding pick-up trucks failed to stop at a checkpoint in norther Lampang province, close to Thailand’s porous borders with Myanmar and Laos.
“Police shot out the tires of the middle truck forcing the driver to abandon it and flee into a roadside forest.
Colonel Chairoj Uangpayung, commander of Wiang Mok police station, said police captured him about 500 meters away from the truck and arrested. The driver was identified as 32 year-old Wichawat Sae Thor.
The other two men also reportedly fled on foot into the forest but have yet to be arrested.
Twenty-eight fertilizer sacks containing 3.4 million speed pills and 20kg of crystal methamphetamine were allegedly found hidden in the black pickup truck
Investigators estimate the street value of the haul worth over 1 billion baht, (US$32 Million).
Police are hunting the other two suspects believed to be in hiding in the forest areas in tambon Wiang Mok. They identified them as Sompong Thakkachanachuchai and Akhom Sae Mee.
A police investigators revealed that the suspect told them that the drugs had reportedly been smuggled from Chiang Rai and were destined to Bangkok.
On Saturday, the police found another 4 million speed pills on the Thoen-Thung Saliem route near the scene during the subsequent search.
The pills were in more than 20 fertilizer sacks left along the route at Ban Saphan Hin village in tambon Wiang Mok, about three kilometers away from the first spot, said Pol Col Chairot.
The officials believed the drugs seized on Saturday were of the same lot as those seized on the previous day. They speculated the suspects might have dumped the drugs before fleeing.
Thailand is a major drug market as well as transit route, particularly for “yaba” — methamphetamine pills produced in the notorious Golden Triangle region bordering Laos and Myanmar.
The region churns out huge quantities of methamphetamine as well as heroin, opium and cannabis — much of it bound for consumers in Asia and beyond.
While drug seizures and arrests of low-level couriers are common, it is rare for authorities in Laos, Myanmar or Thailand to take down cartel kingpins.
Myanmar alone confiscated a record 98 million meth tablets last year, double the previous year’s haul.
In December, Thai police made a record seizure of pure methamphetamine, seizing half a tonne — worth some $40 million — being transported in an 18-wheel lorry.
A month later they also arrested Laos national Xaysana Keopimpha, describing him as a major drug kingpin, although few had heard of him until his arrest.
Police say Xaysana had links to a number of Thai celebrities and powerful people who are now part of a widening probe.
But experts say most cartel leaders continue to do business with relative impunity and that laboratories in Laos, Myanmar and southern China can easily make up for losses incurred during raids.
Sources: AFP, Bangkok Post, The Nation