Thai court sentences Laotian drug kingpin to life in prison

BANGKOK — A Thai court on Tuesday handed a life sentence to a Laotian drug kingpin who was notorious for a high-flying lifestyle and alleged social connections to celebrities and other VIPs.

Bangkok Criminal Court initially gave Xaysana Keopimpha a death sentence, but reduced his punishment because he cooperated with police.

The court said Xaysana led a gang that trafficked drugs from Laos into Thailand and Malaysia, using cars to hide the drugs and to scout for police checkpoints.

He was arrested on Jan. 19, 2017, after a group of traffickers arrested several months earlier identified him as the leader of their network. He was charged in connection with that case, involving the smuggling of 1.2 million methamphetamine pills from Laos into Thailand on Sept. 30, 2016.

The court said officials looked into Xaysana's phone and LINE app messaging records, which revealed that he discussed drug trafficking with other members of his group, while financial records showed that money was transferred to other drug syndicates.

Thailand's Narcotics Control Board said last year that there were at least four known cases in 2016 involving the network in which 5 million tablets were seized by the authorities.

It said three Thai nationals had been arrested in the operation against Xaysana, with about 100 million baht ($3.2 million) in assets seized from the group in Thailand. Thai and Malaysian officials announced other arrests said to be connected to the case.

Xaysana's case drew great attention last year as some notable Thai figures seemed to be implicated. Most prominent was Akarakit Worarojcharoendet, the husband of a well-known Thai actress, who pleaded not guilty after being charged with money laundering and aiding criminal activity. Suspicion focused on him after he was accused of owning a Lamborghini given to him by Xaysana.

Photographs of Xaysana pictured with other public figures, including police officers, circulated widely on social media.

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