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AMLO kicks off crackdown on trade in rosewood

Agency seizes Bt100 million in assets, arrests pair after five-province probe

The Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) is taking serious action against the illegal trade in Siamese rosewood, with yesterday's operation alone leading to the seizure of about Bt100 million in assets and the arrest of two suspects.

The suspects were identified as Udomdej and Janpen Oun-tuang.

The asset seizure and arrests took place after joint police-military raids in 20 locations across five provinces in the Northeast, namely Ubon Ratchathani, Mukdahan, Amnat Charoen, Si Sa Ket and Kalasin.

"From now on, cases related to Siamese-rosewood trading will be handled in the same way as drug-trafficking cases.

"Authorities will order asset seizures and the offenders may even lose their homes" if the property is found to have been acquired via ill-gotten gains, AMLO secretary-general Seehanat Prayoonrat said.

The most recent raids were related to a large smuggling gang that had allegedly felled protected rosewood trees in Thailand and smuggled them to clients in Laos.

"We are going to investigate this further," Seehanat said.

On March 1, AMLO received a request from a police station in Ubon Ratchathani for a financial investigation against a suspected rosewood trader and his accomplices.

The further checks have implicated Udomdej and Janpen Ountuang, Suparp Uppara, Sakthep Surasiang, Ekarat Saennamwong, Thirapon Ariya-mukda, Prajak Thepseeha, Pirun Thongsarn and many others as suspects.

According to the probe, Sakthep allegedly had contacts with several agents to have the Siamese rosewood smuggled to Laos in a convoy, with the fourth vehicle in the convoy carrying armed men. Most of these armed men were found to be former rangers.

Sakthep's wife - a Laotian - was also found to have frequently exchanged foreign currency in commercial banks, claiming she won big prizes in casinos in Laos.

Each exchange usually involved sums of between Bt4 million and Bt5 million.

It is alleged that some of the ill-gotten profits were also being laundered via a tour company owned by Pirun's mother.

"This gang has several billion baht in cash flow," Seehanat said.

An informed source at AMLO said this gang also ran a number of garages and car-dealing businesses as fronts for the illegal activities.

"It has modified different types of vehicles for their smuggling purposes," the source said.


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