BANGKOK (THAILAND) – Thai narcotics have arrested a second senior leader of a vast drug syndicat. The syndicate which the police say dominates the $70 billion annual Asia-Pacific drug trade is facing a tight transnational dragnet.
The arrest of Hong Kong citizen Lee Chung Chak in October, from Bangkok preceded last month’s high-profile arrest in the Netherlands of Tse Chi Lop, a China-born Canadian national who police suspect is the top leader of the syndicate, also called “The Company”.
The two arrests on different continents within three months stem from a decade-long investigation by the AFP, which also leads the multinational Operation Kungur task force targeting the syndicate.
“The suspect was arrested by Thai Narcotics police on Oct. 1 based on an arrest warrant issued by a Thai court, which followed an extradition request by the Australian authorities,” Lieutenant General Montri Yimyaem, head of Thailand’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau said. “The extradition is currently being processed by the court.”
Lee has emerged as a rival to the Canadian as a major player in the region’s drug trade, according to two investigators. “We understand his star had risen to be an equal or even a bigger player,” said one of the investigators. “He’s a very significant arrest in his own right.”.
Thai authorities seized a laptop and multiple phones when they searched Lee’s serviced apartment in an upscale Bangkok area, a potential treasure trove of intelligence, the two investigators said. A third official added that a document and cash in several denominations were also seized.
Lee is appealing the November approval by Thailand’s Criminal Court of Australia’s extradition request, said a source at Thailand’s Ministry of Justice. Tse is in prison in the Netherlands, where a court has yet to rule on his extradition to Australia.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, compared Tse to the notorious Latin American cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. UNDOC has estimated the syndicate made up to $17 billion from methamphetamine trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region alone in 2018.
Police also suspect the crime group traffics heroin, ketamine, cocaine and MDMA, known as ecstasy.