Thai police arrest Myanmar junta chief’s associate in major drug raid


BANGKOK, Sept 24 (Bloomberg): A Myanmar businessman with close links to the junta was among the four people arrested in Bangkok for drug-related offenses and money laundering, a move that could test ties between the two governments.

Last Saturday, Thai police detained businessman Tun Min Latt, who has interests in mining and tourism in Myanmar.

Reuters first reported the arrests, saying the businessman is a close associate of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and the crackdown was related to money laundering from the drug trade in a border town in Myanmar’s Shan state.

The arrest is an awkward development for Thailand and Myanmar -- neighbors who share strong business and military links.

Thailand has pointedly refrained from criticising or going after the Myanmar junta and its associates since the coup, which has drawn global sanctions against the junta.

The son-in-law of Thai senator Upakit Pachariyangkun was arrested in the same raid for conspiracy to sell narcotics, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.

The arrests were part of an investigation into a drug ring, said the person, asking not be identified as the matter is sensitive. Police earlier this week confirmed the arrests, saying they apprehended three Thai nationals and a 53-year-old man from Myanmar.

They also seized more than 200 million baht ($5.35 million) in assets in the process.

Deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Police, Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, said Friday that Tun Min Latt was among those arrested and investigators will build up the case.

"When the case will go to trial will be at the discretion of the public prosecutor,” he added. Major General Zaw Min Tun, the lead spokesman for Myanmar’s State Administration Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United Nations Human Rights Council published a report in 2019 that showed Tun Min Latt listed as a shareholder of company that made donations of about $71,500 to the Myanmar military in 2017.

At the time, the army had committed atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority, which the US has described as genocide.

The military has rejected this declaration. Tun Min Latt’s father, a former director general of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, signed a 30-year deal with a Thai company for a casino resort in the Myanmar border town of Tachilek in 1999, according to a report by activist group Justice for Myanmar.

Upakit signed the deal on behalf of the Thai company. Upakit told the Thai press on Thursday that he had business dealings with Tun Min Latt, whom he described as an electricity broker, but he didn’t believe the Myanmar businessman was involved in the illegal drug trade.

He added that Tun Min Latt sells Israeli arms to the Myanmar junta. "He conducts honest business,” Upakit said. "My family and I don’t have flawed records.” - Bloomberg

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