Thai Businessman Suspected of Funding Insurgents Nabbed for Money Laundering

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
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Thai Businessman Suspected of Funding Insurgents Nabbed for Money Laundering Sahachai Jiensermsin (right), a Thai businessman in a money laundering case, is presented before Police Lt. Gen. Jirapob Puridej, chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, on Nov. 5, 2021.
[Courtesy Central Investigation Bureau]

Thai police on Friday arrested a fugitive businessman charged with laundering money who according to military officials may be funding separatist insurgents in the mostly Muslim southern border provinces. 

Police said they arrested Sahachai Jiensermsin, 53, in Bangkok on Thursday night. 

“He denied all the charges, but the police are continuing with the proceedings,” Police Lt. Gen. Jirapob Puridej, chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, told a press conference in Bangkok.

Jiraprob said that in 2012, a police team targeting oil smugglers seized a boat owned by Sahachai as it was illegally dispensing fuel to other boats off the shore of Songkhla province, in the Thai Deep South, and confiscated 48 million baht ($1.44 million) in cash.

In a subsequent home search, police found evidence of 400-500 million liters of oil trade transactions and a tally of bribes paid to officials, Jiraprob said. The discovery prompted the Anti-Money Laundering Office, a government agency, to order an investigation in 2015.

He said the economic crime division, which now handles both cases, charged Sahachai in 2015, but an arrest warrant was issued only in February of this year.

Jirapob told reporters that Sahachai's arrest was delayed because he had managed to travel in and out of Thailand using other nations' passports. When he was arrested, he was found to be holding a Cambodian passport. Officials were trying to verify if it was genuine, the police said.

Sahachai has been charged in 14 cases since 2003, including illegal smuggling of goods, bribery, and unlicensed fishing in the Deep South and central Thailand, according to police. Most of the cases have either expired or have ended in acquittal, they said.

Due to his high profile and connections, Sahachai has earned the nickname “Sia Jo Pattani,” or Tycoon Jo Pattani, and local media have alleged that authorities helped him evade jail time.

Sahachai was transferred Friday to the office of Songkhla’s attorney general, who will decide the next step, an official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Songkhla's attorney general could not be reached for comment.

Suspected links to insurgents   

Thailand's Deep South, which encompasses Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla, has a common border with Malaysia and is notorious as a corridor for smuggled goods, including fuel, palm oil, alcohol, cigarettes, electronics, and home appliances, according to security officials. 

Military officials in the Deep South said Sahachai was a critical player in illicit cross-border trades and was under investigation for possibly financing the separatist insurgency there.

“We monitored Sia Jo and other operators who are suspected of funding local insurgents,” said an official who asked not to be named because he was not allowed to speak to reporters.

“Sia Jo was a major player in posing collateral threats to the violence, and he was still active before the arrest,” Maj. Gen. Pramote Prom-in, a spokesman for the military command in the Deep South (ISOC-4), told BenarNews on Friday. “He has to pay the price.”

Pramote did not give further details. Military officials usually use the term “collateral threats” for those who pay insurgents for protection or hire them to kill their enemies or officials.

People conducting illegal activities along the southern border, such as smuggling fuel or goods, drug trades, and human trafficking, typically have links with the insurgency and benefit the gunmen one way or another, said a military official, who likewise asked not to be named.

“We have proof that 'black business' operators paid protection money to insurgents, who mounted attacks,” the official said. 


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