BANGKOK — When two women, one arriving from Vietnam and another from Cambodia, attempted to waltz through a customs checkpoint at Bangkok’s international airport with bags filled with rhino horns in their luggage on Friday, they almost succeeded.
Security camera footage released Tuesday showed the pair were escorted by two policemen who tried to convince the customs agent to let them pass without being searched. Customs refused, and soon discovered the bags contained nearly 50 kilograms of illegal horns, the largest haul in years.
The two policemen were placed under investigation, though their supervisor maintains they were uninvolved in the crime and only there to “provide convenience” to the well-connected pair.
“We have already set up an investigation committee,” Monthian Baothong, chief of Suvarnabhumi Airport Police Station, said by telephone. “But they were there just to provide convenience. They had nothing to do with the crime.”
Police said the horns could be worth about 173 million baht on the black market – the most valuable seizure in recent history.
Col. Monthian said the two suspects, Thitirat Arai and Kansinee Anutranusart, happened to know a puu yai, or influential senior figure, so they requested two officers from his force accompany them through the customs checkpoint.
It’s not uncommon for travelers with connections to senior figures to request a police officer or airport official to walk them through customs, so that they will not be selected for screening.
“The officers are uninvolved,” Monthian said. “Neither was the puu yai.”
Thitirat and Kansinee managed to slip away while officials were inspecting their luggage and remain at large.
Monthian said arrest warrants have been issued for both of them, and police expect to search for more suspects after they are questioned.
In an interview with Channel 8 TV, Samut Prakan police commander Thammanoon Traithippayapong said the two police captains didn’t expect the luggage they were asked to accompany to contain something illegal.
Correction: This story has been updated in several places to reflect the smugglers were transporting rhinoceros horns and not ivory.