Convicted drug smuggler on Thai cabinet denies role in black market face mask sales

Sornsuvee Phuraveeratwatcharee, at left, discusses terms for selling boxes of millions of face masks as they are carried into a truck for delivery. At right, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Thammanat Prompao. Photos: Queen of Spades / Facebook, Thammanat Prompao / Facebook
Sornsuvee Phuraveeratwatcharee, at left, discusses terms for selling boxes of millions of face masks as they are carried into a truck for delivery. At right, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Thammanat Prompao. Photos: Queen of Spades / Facebook, Thammanat Prompao / Facebook

The convicted drug trafficker serving in the cabinet Monday denied any involvement in a close associate’s alleged role in stockpiling more than 200 million face masks for resale at inflated prices. 

Controversial Deputy Minister of Agriculture Thammanat Prompao, who recently insisted the heroin he spent four years in prison for was “flour,” denied Monday that his subordinate, Pittinan Rak-eaid, was in cahoots with a man accused of stockpiling a shed full of masks and selling them to well-off entrepreneurs.

“To show my pure innocence, I asked Pittinan to file complaints to the police to prosecute [Sornsuvee Phuraveeratwatcharee] for stockpiling face masks, overcharging for the products and making false claims,” Thammanat said.

During a time of intense public anxiety due to the coronavirus outbreak and a shortage of critical supplies including face masks, people were outraged Sunday when a popular Facebook page leaked information that Sornsuvee Phuraveeratwatcharee had stockpiled more than 200 million face masks for profit.

“I have 5 million pieces of the products for tomorrow, March 3. The prices are affordable. They’re only THB14 each,” Sornsuvee wrote in a Facebook post that included photos of face masks in cardboard boxes. “I won’t sell them separately, I only accept offers for 1 million pieces. Show me your financial evidence or bring a Chinese entrepreneur.”

In another post, Sornsuvee wrote, “Today I have 200 million masks and I’m selling them at good prices. Anyone interested?” 

Sornsuvee’s Facebook account has been deactivated since Sunday after netizens condemned him for hoarding the masks and seeking business opportunities during the epidemic.

On Feb. 4, the cabinet added face mask, sanitizers and related products to a list of  critical goods subject to government price controls.

‘I have 5 million pieces of the product for tomorrow, March 3. The prices are affordable. They’re only THB14 each.’
‘I have 5 million pieces of the product for tomorrow, March 3. The prices are affordable. They’re only THB14 each.’

Pittinan, Thammanat’s deputy, came under suspicion because he appears in photos with Sornsuvee in which the latter brags that he can obtain “anything.” The photos were posted by the same page. Pittinan was a candidate for the majority-ruling Palang Pracharath Party and close to Thammanat, one of its important fixers. 

“Sitting down to talk businesses with my brothers here. If you want anything, I’ll find it for you,” Sornsuvee wrote.

Pittinan told reporters this morning that he didn’t personally know Sornsuvee though acknowledged meeting him for two hours at a hotel in Bangkok’s Pratunam area.

Thammanat survived a no-confidence debate in parliament last month driven by his drug-trafficking history. He spent four years in an Australian prison for trying to smuggle a large quantity of heroin. Though such a conviction disqualifies him from his post under the law, he claims that he broke Australian law, not Thai. He also holds a dubious doctorate from a diploma mill.

Photos purportedly from Sornsuvee’s Facebook show him with Pittinan Rak-eaid, a close acquaintance of controversial deputy minister Thammanat Prompao.
Photos purportedly from Sornsuvee’s Facebook show him with Pittinan Rak-eaid, a close acquaintance of controversial deputy minister Thammanat Prompao.

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