Thai senator linked to US-sanctioned Burmese businessman faces drug, money laundering charges

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai senator linked to US-sanctioned Burmese businessman faces drug, money laundering charges Thailand's Criminal Court in Bangkok is seen in this file photo. Upakit Pachariyangkun, a Thai senator, appeared at the courthouse on Dec. 14, 2023, where prosecutors filed charges against him including alleged involvement in a transnational crime organization, illegal drugs and money laundering.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP file photo

UPDATED at 10:46 a.m. ET on 2023-12-15

Prosecutors in Bangkok said Thursday they had filed charges including for suspected involvement in a transnational crime organization, illegal drugs and money laundering against a Thai senator allegedly linked to a Burmese businessman under U.S. sanctions.

Sen. Upakit Pachariyangkun arrived with his lawyer at the criminal courthouse at around 9 a.m. and met with the prosecutor from the Attorney General’s Office. It filed six charges against him in court including possession and attempting to sell ketamine, conspiracy to launder money, associating with a transnational criminal organization, and committing offenses while serving as a senator.

“After the prosecutor filed the complaints to the criminal court, the court which has accepted the case, read and explained the complaint to Upakit Pachariyangkun,” said Prayuth Petchkhun, deputy spokesman for the attorney general. “The defendant acknowledged and denied all charges.”

Upakit, who was released around 4:30 p.m. after his attorney posted 10 million baht (U.S. $287,000) bail, is to return to court to hear testimony on May 13, 2024.

News reports from Thailand have linked Upakit to one of Myanmar’s most politically connected businessmen, Tun Min Latt, who was arrested in Bangkok in September 2022 for alleged money laundering and narcotics trafficking. 

In March 2023, the United States government put Tun Min Latt on a list of individuals and companies with ties to the Burmese junta to be targeted with sanctions. The U.S. Treasury Department said he was closely connected to military chief and junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, and that his companies imported military weapons and equipment into Myanmar.

Upakit, who was appointed to the Thai senate in 2019 by the military-led government of then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, is the son of Upadit Pachariyangkun, the foreign minister from 1976 to 1980 during the military-backed governments of Thanin Kraivichien and Gen. Kriangsak Chamanan. 

According to analyst Zachary Abuza, documentation has linked Upakit and Tun Min Latt for 24 years. In a column published by BenarNews in March, Abuza said the two had owned companies together including The Myanmar Allure Group, which developed a hotel and casino, along with power companies including United Power of Asia and its Myanmar subsidiaries.

Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington and an adjunct at Georgetown University, is a regular contributor to BenarNews.

After Tun Min Latt was arrested in Bangkok in September 2022, Upakit denied having any close relationship to the Burmese national, the Bangkok Post reported at the time.

Charges filed in December 2022 allege that Tun Min Latt took proceeds of the sale of illegal drugs and, through his and Upakit’s companies, transferred the proceeds to his Allure Group P&E, Abuza wrote, citing that the Prachataienglish news website. Tun Min Latt and three other defendants have denied all the charges and pleaded not guilty in January.

An arrest warrant was filed against Upakit in October 2022 and withdrawn soon after. Later, he denied links to the drug trade and called accusations against his son-in-law Dean Gultula, who had been arrested with Tun Min Latt, fake news, according to Abuza.

Tun Min Latt and Dean have been detained after the court denied them bail, according to Prayuth, the spokesman for the attorney general. 

Police Lt. Gen. Panurat Lakboonto, secretary-general of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, revealed that officers had inspected Upakit’s residences in Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom and Rayong as late as Nov. 30. He said police confiscated assets including cars, guns and watches, along with the seven properties, valued at more than 400 million baht ($11.4 million).

“I had authorization to investigate his assets and discovered Sen. Upakit owned property in five locations in Bangkok and two locations in other provinces. We already seized all assets for inspection,” Panurat said.

Wilawan Watcharasakvej in Bangkok contributed to this report. 

This story has been updated to replace the main photo.


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