Manhunt Scours Laos for Accomplices in 'Mr. X' Drug Ring

The apprehension of Xaysana Keopimpha is likely to lead to more arrests.

Sirinya Sitdhichai, secretary-general of the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board, answers questions during a press conference, Feb. 9, 2017.

Lao and Thai authorities have launched a manhunt for five people believed to be part of a major drug gang that operated in the Mekong River region, according to Thai authorities.

The authorities say they captured four people who are suspected of being members of a drug-dealing operation controlled by Xaysana Keopimpha, but five more people are believed to be on the run in Laos.

“[We] sent information to the Lao side to investigate, and the Lao Drug National Control and Suppression Department is the lead agency,” said Sirinya Sitdhichai, secretary-general of the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) at today’s press conference.

Sitdhichai said they got a break in the case after police in Laos recently arrested a suspected drug dealer there. That suspect was not named.

The authorities also announced that they had seized Xaysana’s assets in the Lao provinces of Khammuan and Vientiane.

Xaysana, 41, was arrested on Jan. 19 at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport after arriving from Phuket after a five-year long investigation by Thai and Lao authorities.

Authorities say Xaysana was supplying caffeine-laced meth tablets known as "yaba" produced in Myanmar throughout the region.

Known as Mr. X, Xaysana led a lavish lifestyle that included contacts with high-society figures in the region, a fleet of exotic cars, at least five houses, a 200 hectare rubber plantation, and several bank accounts.

The arrest also led the daughter-in-law of former Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong to distance herself on Jan. 24 from rumored ties to Xaysana,

Sommaly Thammavong told RFA’s Lao Service last month that a photo showing her and Thammavong’s son together with crime boss Xaysana was taken “by accident."

The photo, which has circulated widely on Facebook pages following Xaysana’s arrest, shows only a casual social connection among the three, Sommaly Thammavong told RFA’s Lao Service.

“We have not done any business with him, and we didn’t know what he was involved in,” Thammavong said.

Reported and translated by RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.