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The Allure of the Golden Triangle – Drugs, Guns, Girls and Gambling (and Harry Potter KTV)
The Asian Crime Century briefing twelve
The Allure of the Golden Triangle remains for organised crime groups with huge profits still to be made from drugs, guns, girls and gambling, illustrated by allegations against a Senator in Thailand.
Just across the border from Thai Province of Chiang Rai Province is the Allure Resort, a tatty hotel-casino in the Myanmar town of Tachileik which is located along the Ruak River. This is the heart of the Golden Triangle, near where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers. The Allure Resort was owned by a Thai Senator who is allegedly involved in business with a Myanmar businessman who was arrested by the Royal Thai Police in September 2022 and was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in March 2023.
Interestingly, not far away in Tachileik is the ‘Harry Potter KTV’ (for those readers who have not visited Asia much, KTV is ‘Karaoke TV’ and ubiquitous in many cities across Asia). The exterior of the Harry Potter KTV does not look much like the wizard world of the books…
…and nor does the inside.
The Harry Potter KTV is not connected to drugs, guns, gambling and girls (I hope), but it gives a taste of what a border town such as Tachileik is like. This is a party town where drugs, guns, girls, and gambling are all available. The Allure Resort reportedly has 133 slot machines as well as 16 tables for playing blackjack and roulette. Tachileik is reportedly a centre for the trafficking of young Thai women to Myanmar for prostitution. Tachileik is also a hub for illegal drugs deals and trafficking, as well as almost any vice that can be desired. Tachileik is a Golden Triangle crime gang border town, with multiple militias in the surrounding Shan State region competing for control with the Myanmar military.
The former owner of the Allure Resort (and allegedly still the owner), is Thai Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun. Senator Upakit is facing allegations from opposition politician Rangsiman Rome that he has links to a Myanmar business tycoon who is facing charges of drug trafficking.
In September 2022, Myanmar tycoon Tun Min Latt was arrested in Bangkok, charged with drug trafficking and money laundering offences, and had over 500 million Thai Baht seized. Tun Min Latt has also reportedly procured weapons for the Myanmar military government. Also arrested with Tun Min Latt was the son in law of Senator Upakit, and another wanted suspect is a major shareholder in the senator’s business.
Senator Upakit worked in the Foreign Affairs Ministry for almost 10 years before resigning in 1999 at the age of 37 to build and operate the Allure hotel-casino in Tachileik. Senator Upakit has denied having a close relationship with Tun Min Latt, and claimed that he knows him through the electricity supply business operating on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Senator Upakit also reportedly owns United Power of Asia, a company that supplies electricity from Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority to Tachileik. A case is being heard by the courts in Thailand relating to the alleged laundering of proceeds of drug trafficking through the Alure Group. Tun Min Latt is suspected to have been using his electricity distribution activities, involving power purchased from Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority to be used in Shan State and Tachileik through the Myanmar Allure Group, as a conduit for illegal drug trafficking proceeds. The Myanmar Allure Group is also suspected of channelling illicit funds through casinos in Tachileik which have been linked to Chinese investors and drug traffickers in the Golden Triangle drug trade. Tachileik has become a centre for drug trafficking, prostitution and gambling, the latter being a useful conduit for the laundering of the proceeds of the first two activities.
The Myanmar Allure Group was established in 1999 through an agreement to operate casinos in Tachileik brokered by Tun Min Latt’s father, Mr U Khin Maung, the Myanmar tourism chief for an extended period. The agreement was signed by Senator Upakit, who provided an annual lease payment of $120,000 or 6% of annual gross revenue to the Myanmar Directorate of Hotels and Tourism. The Allure Resort, a casino hotel, was built by Star Sapphire Company Limited, part of a group of companies controlled by the Myanmar military.
Senator Upakit reportedly sold his shares in the Allure Group companies before taking up his post as a senator in May 2019. In financial statements he submitted to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Senator Upakit said he sold the Allure Resort Hotel for $8.1 million and also divested his shares in United Power of Asia. Opposition Senator Rangsiman Rome has claimed that Senator Upakit has falsely declared the sale of his assets and in fact still owns them.
On 24 March, the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced that Tun Min Lat, his wife Win Min Soe, the Star Sapphire Group of Companies, and Star Sapphire Trading Company Ltd, have been designated on the OFAC list. These sanctions require that all property and interests in property of the persons named above that are in the US, or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC; and also that transactions with these persons and entities by US persons are prohibited.
The US Treasury Department stated that Tun Min Tatt was arrested in Thailand in September 2022 for drug trafficking and money laundering, and that his companies have imported military arms and equipment, including drones and aircraft parts, while acting as Burma’s agent with the People’s Republic of China arms manufacturer NORINCO (otherwise known as the China North Industries Group Corporation, which is also sanctioned since 2003 by the US Government in relation to allegations of contributing to the missile development program in Iran). The UK Government has sanctioned the Star Sapphire Group since August 2022.
The saga with Senator Upakit continues, as does business in Tachileik in drugs, guns, girls and gambling.
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