Thai Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao would have gotten a much longer sentence had he not cooperated with the authorities and pleaded guilty to importing a “substantial quantity” of heroin, Australian court records from 24 years ago say.
While the embattled minister continues to revise his public account of what he was doing during the four years Australia says he was cooling his heels in prison, the newspaper that brought them to light this week today published excerpts of the original court documents.
The documents name two men: Manat Bophlom and Sorasat Tiemtad. The Herald reporters say the latter corroborated that Manat was in fact Thammanat, who did not deny it when asked.
Manat has repeatedly denied the full extent of what’s in the records. When he was sworn in two months ago, he played it down as a small matter he was unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for. He eventually acknowledged spending eight months in prison but since revised that to say, yes, he spent four years in what he called “state-sponsored accommodation” as a witness. He’s also said he’s the victim of a conspiracy to ruin his name.
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The records from the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal are dated March 10, 1995. They detail a ruling dismissing an appeal to the court that the men’s sentences were too harsh. The court found both men “pleaded guilty to being knowingly concerned in the importation of heroin. They were each sentenced to imprisonment for six years involving a minimum term of four years” that would have been longer had they not cooperated with the authorities.
The records reference a “substantial quantity” of heroin and makes it clear they were more than hapless mules. The court “took the view that they were both rather more than carriers in relation to this importation.”
The story indicates that Thammanat was a key figure in the smuggling operation who helped “arrange visas and plane tickets in Bangkok for the drug courier and took the package from the Parkroyal Hotel to the buyers in Bondi.”
After his arrest, he “gave [Australian] police details of the Thai underworld and explained the involvement of military figures in drug trafficking,” it says.
The government of Prayuth Chan-o-cha has closed ranks around Thammanat, who’s been described as a reliable ally and enforcer within his fragile ruling coalition.
Clarification: This story has been updated with the apparent preferred spelling of Thammanat’s name.