A businessman with alleged ties to Myanmar’s junta leader, along with four other defendants, pleaded not guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking charges. The policeman spearheading the arrest has been transferred from Bangkok.
Tun Min Latt (yellow tie) visits an arms exhibition in Bangkok in 2019 with Myanmar leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing (second from left) ,Credit: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing/Government of Myanmar seniorgeneralminaunghlaing.com
On 23 January 2023, Myanmar business tycoon Tun Min Latt appeared shackled by the ankles before Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court for arraignment. Sitting beside him was Dean Young Guntula, also shackled.
The two had been summoned from the Central Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts. Sitting with them were the remaining defendants, Namhom Nettrakun and Piyada Khamta, apparently without shackles, but under the watchful gaze of prison officers sitting behind the four.
In December 2022, the four, in addition to a legal entity, the Allure Group P&E, were charged with money laundering and transnational organised crime, which each carry a prison term of up to 15 years. They are also charged with drug trafficking-related offences, which in extreme cases can result in the death penalty.
In a trial observed by the defendants’ relatives and journalists, the four pleaded not guilty via their attorneys along with explanations.
In general, the lawyers stated that their five clients had nothing to do with drug offences. Allure Group P&E was simply performing its function of importing electricity from Thailand to Myanmar’s Tachiliek region in line with its contract with the local authorities.
Problems only arose when the company decided to use an unofficial moneychanger to be responsible for trans-border transactions. Without the company knowing it, the money changer was involved with money from drug trafficking.
In Dean’s case, the lawyer claimed that he was not involved at all in this whole matter, that among his seized assets nothing illegal was found, and that he never even travelled to Myanmar.
Tun Min Latt and the other defendants have been in custody in Thailand since their arrest in September 2022. Two weeks later, an arrest warrant was also issued for Guntula’s father-in-law, Thai senator Upakit Pachariyangkun, on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, but the warrant was quickly withdrawn, OCCRP and Prachatai reported.
Tun Min Latt is accused of transferring funds derived from drug sales to the electricity company. Guntula allegedly oversaw the transfer of funds to the Allure Group (P&E) from a related firm, Myanmar Allure Group Company Limited.
The Allure Group (P&E) was used to “transform money gained from offences related to drugs into commodities in the form of electricity that was exported to Myanmar,” the indictment reads. Piyada and Namhom were also accused of involvement in the wrongdoing.
Upakit was previously a director of the Myanmar Allure Group. Corporate records show that he left the company in 2019, when he was appointed to the Senate by the military, which had overthrown Thailand’s civilian government five years earlier.
The indictment shows that prosecutors are focused on crimes that took place between February 22 and May 10, 2019. Upakit took his seat in the Senate on May 14 that year. Three months later, Guntula became a director at the Myanmar Allure Group.
Although he wasn’t registered as a director with the Allure Group until 2019, Dean’s Facebook profile shows that he made several visits to Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, starting in 2017.
On the same day of the arraignment, the Inside Thailand news show reported that Pol Maj Kritsanat Thanasuphanat, the officer in the Metropolitan Police who took charge of the arrest of Tun Min Latt and the others, was ordered to be reassigned from Bangkok to an equivalent position in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum. The news show interpreted this as a form of retribution for his bold performance.
The same show also interviewed Piyasiri Wattanavarangkul, Deputy Secretary General of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board. He said arrest warrants have issued for Pannarong Khunpitak and Kallayawee Thiraprapawong, major stakeholders in the Allure Group since 2020. The two are still at large.