The downfall of millionaire “Mr X,” long shielded by cash and contacts in Laos, has highlighted the role of the secretive communist country in showering pills across Southeast Asia.
Allegedly a key figure among gangs buying drugs from Myanmar’s methamphetamine labs, Laotian Xaysana Keophimpha — dubbed “Mr X” — is believed to have used his graft-riddled country to shuttle narcotics south.
The heavy-set 42-year-old was on Jan. 19 arrested by Thai police at Bangkok’s main airport en route to Laos where he lived freely, reveling in a lifestyle of celebrity parties and supercars.
He denies charges of drug possession and smuggling.
However, subsequent police operations have turned up several more men accused of running drugs through Laos, an opaque country whose role in the regional narcotics trade is gradually emerging.
They are the suspected intermediaries of the “Golden Triangle,” shifting pills, methamphetamine and heroin from the world’s second-largest drug producing zone to a regional market.
Among the accused is Xaysana’s friend Sisouk Daoheoung — a minor Laotian celebrity with a penchant for thoroughbred horses, and a shared devotion to fast cars and fancy holidays flaunted on social media.
If police are right, their ostentation in one of Asia’s poorest countries was funded by smuggling highly addictive caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills — better known as “yaba,” or crazy medicine — and crystal meth.
“From Xaysana’s phone and Facebook records it was clear he and Sisouk are friends ... their [drug] groups are connected,” Thai Police Major-General Supakit Srijantranon told reporters last week.
At US$8 a pop in Thailand, the best yaba pills rise in price the further they move from source, bringing extraordinary rewards to the traffickers.
The highest-quality pills — with 15 to 20 percent meth purity — come from the factories of the North and South Wa — where armed ethnic groups have marshalled a self-governing state on the Myanmar-China border — and by the Lahu community.
Poor, corrupt and bordering five countries, Laos makes for an ideal transit route to the rest of Southeast Asia.
Drugs are moved across the Mekong River into Thailand then onto Malaysia and beyond.
Thailand is being hit hard by the trade.
Between October last year and last month, the country seized 74 million pills, according to the Thai Narcotics Control Board, as well as 2 tonnes of crystal meth and 320kg of heroin.
Police are fighting back and say they have battered three major Laos-linked drug networks, confiscating tens of millions of dollars’ worth of assets including hotels, cars, cash and a horse-riding school in Vientiane.
They are hunting a fourth group led by Usman Salameang, a Thai believed to be holed up in Laos, wanted for moving gear through Thailand’s violent border area into Malaysia.
Historically, Laos has been reluctant to admit it has a drug problem.
However, under Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith the country is keen to show that it is flushing out criminals and corrupt officials.
The recent arrests are part of Sisoulith’s get-tough message to the drug gangs.
POINT-BLANK RANGE: Reporters and camera people from several outlets say police officers in Minneapolis had fired tear gas and rubber bullets directly at them Multiple journalists on the ground in Minnesota said they were teargassed and subject to other attacks by police on Saturday evening, a day after the widely condemned arrest of a CNN reporter live on air. Los Angeles Times journalist Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who was reporting outside the Fifth Precinct in Minneapolis, said she was with a group of about a dozen journalists when the Minnesota State Patrol “fired tear gas canisters on us at point blank range.” “I was saying: ‘Where do we go?’ They did not tell us where to go. They didn’t direct us. They just fired on us,” she said
HISTORIC FLIGHT: The astronauts named their capsule ‘Endeavour,’ after the space shuttle on which they both flew, while Elon Musk said he was overcome with emotion Two veteran NASA astronauts headed for the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Saturday became the first commercial company to launch a rocket carrying humans into orbit, ushering in a new era in space travel. SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a 19-hour voyage to the space station. “Let’s light this candle,” Hurley, the mission commander, told SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, before liftoff at 3:22pm from NASA’s
For nearly a decade, the UN Security Council has been frequently paralyzed by Russia’s obstinacy over the Syrian crisis. Today, however, it is the US-China rivalry that has infected a growing array of issues, according to officials and diplomats. As recently as 2017, an understanding between Washington and Beijing allowed the UN on three occasions — involving separate sets of economic sanctions — to project international unity in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat. Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a ferocious competition erupt between the UN’s two main contributors, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May
INDIA Pride to be preserved The nation would not let its “pride be hurt” in its latest border flare-ups with China, but is determined to settle the dispute through talks, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh said in a television interview late on Saturday. “Situations arise with China. It has happened before,” Singh said, adding that the government was striving to make sure “tension does not escalate.” The government has turned down US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate, he said. IRAN Speaker says talks futile Newly elected Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf yesterday said that any negotiations with the US would be “futile.” The nation’s