6 June 2024

A deep connection between Myanmar’s arms dealer Tun Min Latt and the Thai elite has triggered a political controversy in Thailand at a time when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is about to dissolve the House of Representatives, paving the way for a new election.

Opposition MP Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party was on the offensive during the general debate in the House last week when he accused Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun of being a long-time business partner of Tun Min Latt. The Myanmar national was arrested in September and indicted in December last year for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The indictment accused Tun Min Latt of transferring money made from the drug trade to Allure Group (P&E), which later transformed the fund into a commodity in the form of electricity exported to Tachilek town in Myanmar by the Provincial Electricity of Authority in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province. The accused has pleaded not guilty.

Tun Min Latt is one of the cronies of Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. He brokered arms deals with China and Israel for Myanmar’s military, also known as Tatmadaw, for a long time, according to human rights group Justice for Myanmar.

Rangsiman’s accusation

Based on information from Justice for Myanmar and his own investigation, Rangsiman told the House during the debate, in an attempt to grill Prayut, that the Thai senator had been involved in many businesses with Tun Min Latt, including running a casino resort in Tachilek under the name of Allure Group since 2000.

Upakit dismissed the allegation and filed three defamation lawsuits  —   against Rangsiman, lawyer Achariya Ruangratanapong, and media persons Danai Ekamahasawat and Amornrat Mahitthirook. He is seeking 100 million baht from Rangsiman, and 50 million baht from the others for damage to his reputation.

Rangsiman hit back, accusing the senator of making a false asset declaration upon assuming his senatorial post and vowed to petition the anti-graft body for further investigation as well as impeachment of Upakit.

Upakit declared that he had divested his stake in Allure Group and sold a hotel business for $8.15 million to one of his associates before entering the Senate in May 2019. Rangsiman countered that there was no such trade deal since a person who was named as the buyer told police that he had not purchased any stake in the hotel. The senator had sold his stake in the hotel in July 2020, the opposition told reporters.

Prayut’s connection

Prayut was also linked to Upakit, as it was the general — when he headed the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order — who had picked Upakit, an ex-official of the Foreign Ministry as a senator to vote for his PM candidacy in 2019.

The Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (United Thai Nation) headquarters was situated in the senator’s property in Soi Ari. The party would go on to name Prayut as its prime minister candidate in the coming election due in May. The 250-member Senate has played a key role in installing Prayut in the office of premier.

Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, minister attached to the PM’s Office and a key member of the United Thai Nation, said Prayut was not involved in any grey business. It was true that the party had allowed the use of the building in question for its headquarters, but it did necessarily point to any connection with the owner, he argued.

A military connection

The arrest of Tun Min Latt and his Thai national partners last year unveiled a deep connection between the Thai and Myanmar military elite. Thailand became a haven for the wealth of the general and his cronies.

Following his arrest, Thai authorities seized assets worth $50 million, including real estate, cash, cars, and luxury watches. Thai police also discovered the title of a luxury condominium and bank account passbooks belonging to Min Aung Hlaing’s son Pyae Sone and daughter Khin Thiri Thet Mon during a raid on Tun Min Latt’s place on January 11.

Rangsiman accused Prayut and Thai military leaders of making attempts to help release the seized assets and even trying to release Tun Min Latt. The opposition demanded an explanation from Prayut as to the reasons why a police detective in charge of the Tun Min Latt case was transferred to Chaiyaphum province.

Poor international PR

Shortly after the discovery of the assets, the Chief of Thai Defense Forces, Chalermphon Srisawasdi, met Min Aung Hlaing at a High-Level Committee meeting in the strife-torn Rakhine State from January 19-21. Rangsiman and many Myanmar observers doubted if the two generals discussed the seized assets of Min Aung Hlaing’s adult children who were sanctioned by the United States following a military coup in February 2021.

Prayut’s government has been blamed for compromising the efforts of the international community and Asean to put pressure on the Myanmar State Administration Council junta to end violence and the political crisis. Even the Thai special envoy to Myanmar has spoken out against the sanctions imposed by western countries, in a clear hint of where the Thai administration’s sympathies lay.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk