BANGKOK — It was meant to be a record drug raid in Thailand, and a hallmark of transnational investigation – over 11 tonnes of ketamine worth nearly 30 billion baht was seized by Thai narcotics agents armed with intel from Taiwanese authorities.
That was how the story was relayed to the press, too, when the Minister of Justice and a dozen high-ranking posed for photos two weeks ago at the warehouse where the ketamine was discovered.
But the same officials are now telling the media the sacks of seized powder are no narcotics, but trisodium phosphate. The bizarre plot twist led a transparency activist to lodge a complaint against the justice minister on Monday, suspecting that a massive conspiracy might be afoot to cover up the massive drug haul.
“On the day when the authorities seized the exhibit and conducted tests on some of them, the results turned out to be positive,” activist and lawyer Atchariya Ruengrattanapong said after filing his complaint. “The justice minister also confirmed to the media that the exhibit was ketamine.”
He continued, “But a week later, they said it was trisodium phosphate. This discredited the reputation of the organization.”
Atchariya’s complaint, lodged a complaint at the anti-corruption agency, accused justice minister Somsak Thepsuthin and Narcotics Control Board chairman Wichai Chaimongkol of negligence over the 11.5 tonnes of ketamine, which seemed to simply disappear, or turn into other chemicals altogether.
The drug bust was announced on Nov. 12 at a press conference held inside the same warehouse in Chachoengsao where security officers were said to have found a total of 475 sacks filled with ketamine. No one was arrested.
Justice minister Somsak, members of the media, narcotics police, as well as representatives from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, were invited to witness the arrest, which is billed as the largest seizure of ketamine on Thai soils ever.
Initial testing of some of the sacks came back results, confirming the material as ketamine.
But narcotic task force director Wichai walked back from the findings on Saturday – a week after the operation – and now said that 66 of the 475 sacks in fact contained trisodium phosphate. The chemical compound is used in pharmaceutical and food production as food additives and cleaning agents.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Wichai dismissed allegations of foul play. He blamed the mix-up on the chemical properties.
“The two chemicals are physically similar,” Wichai told reporters. “Sixty-six of the sacks were opened, while the rest were sealed when we raided the warehouse.”
“When we conducted initial tests, it turned out to be purple, so we believed they were ketamine as we were told by a tip-off from Taiwanese authorities.”
Officials had said the operation was based on a tip-off from Taiwanese authorities, who confiscated 300-kilogram of ketamine hidden in similar sacks shipped from Thailand. They believed the suspected drugs found in the warehouse were intended for exports to foreign countries, probably Europe and Japan.
Wichai said he will invite other law enforcement agencies to conduct more tests on the drug-haul-not-drug-haul.
“It will take another two or three days to test all of the exhibit,” he said. “I confirm that there is no evidence swap.”
Ketamine falls under Category 2 narcotics under Thai laws. Illegal possession of the drugs can land the guilty party in jail up to 10 years.