The daughter-in-law of former Lao prime minister Thongsing Thammavong distanced herself Tuesday from rumored ties to an alleged Lao drug dealer arrested last week in Thailand, saying a photo showing her and Thammavong’s son together with crime boss Xaysana Keopimpha was taken “by accident."
The photo, which has circulated widely on Facebook pages following Xaysana’s Jan. 19 arrest, shows only a casual social connection among the three, Sommaly Thammavong told Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Lao Service, a sister entity of BenarNews.
“We have not done any business with him, and we didn’t know what he was involved in,” Thammavong said.
“We met him by accident and had photos taken occasionally at parties or at weddings,” Thammavong, the wife of the former prime minister’s son Dethsongkam Thammavong, said.
“We each earn our living in different ways.”
Many in Laos suspect closer connections between Xaysana, the alleged leader of a major methamphetamine distribution network in the ASEAN region, and the Thammavongs, though, a legal expert living in Laos told RFA.
“The photo shows that they are close friends, and the public believes they have close ties,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Is it really possible that they knew nothing about Xaysana’s background or the nature of his work before they allowed themselves to be photographed with him,” he asked.
“[Xaysana] was arrested in Thailand because the police there know that he is protected in Laos by powerful political figures, and that law enforcement in the country is weak.”
'Enormous assets in Laos'
Speaking to the press on Jan. 20 following Xaysana’s arrest the day before at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thai police Maj. Gen. Sommai Kongwisaisuk thanked Lao law-enforcement authorities for providing information that helped lead to the arrest.
“Lao authorities said to us that if we couldn’t arrest him here, they wouldn’t be able to do anything in Laos.”
“Xaysana has enormous assets in Laos,” Kongwisaisuk, chief of Thailand’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau, said.
“I don’t know what’s going on over there.”
Prior to Xaysana’s arrest, Thai police in 2016 took into custody four members of Xaysana’s drug network, seizing more than 5 million methamphetamine, or yaba, pills, Thai officials told reporters at a press briefing on Jan. 20.
The arrests and subsequent investigation led finally to the Jan. 19 arrest of Xaysana and three associates after they arrived in Bangok following a visit to the southern Thai resort town of Phuket, Thai officials said.
Reached by telephone for comment, residents in the Lao capital Vientiane declined to discuss the case, saying they feared their conversations were being monitored.