Thai Cabinet minister denies drug conviction report

BANGKOK (AP) – A member of Thailand’s Cabinet said yesterday that an Australian newspaper report that he was imprisoned there for four years on a drug smuggling conviction was concocted by his political enemies, and he has no plans to resign.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao was responding to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald, based on court records and interviews, that he was arrested in 1993 and convicted of conspiracy to import heroin.

Rumours of Thammanat’s arrest circulated in July before he was sworn into his post in Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government. He said then that he had been innocently caught up in a police raid, was sent to prison for eight months on a minor charge, and then spent four years as a free man working in Australia.

Prayuth, questioned by reporters after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, declined to comment directly on the issue.

Thammanat, a power broker in northern Thailand, is generally credited with having helped Prayuth’s ruling Palang Pracharath party perform well in the region in the March general election. But there apparently was hesitation to appoint him to the Cabinet, since it was reported that an offer to name him Minister of Labour had been withdrawn because of his reputation as an “influential person”, a Thai euphemism for shady figures.

Thai’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao. PHOTO: AP

The Sydney Morning Herald report said Thammanat, then using the name Manat Bophlom, pleaded guilty in 1993 to involvement in trafficking 3.2 kilogrammes of heroin into Australia.

Three alleged accomplices – two Australians and one Thai – were also charged.

The newspaper said evidence showed Thammanat played a major part in the operation. However, he was given a relatively lenient six-year sentence after cooperating with the police investigation, it said. He was reportedly released after serving four years and then deported.

When asked by reporters yesterday if he planned to step down from his post, he replied, “Why would I resign?”

He said he had already publicly clarified the case, and that under an agreement made with the Australian police and courts, he could not give further information.