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B30mn coke bust at Phuket Airport



PHUKET: Six kilograms of cocaine were seized by officers in two separate airport arrests this week. The suspects, a Swiss man and a Thai woman, face a maximum penalty of death under Thai law for smuggling of Category 2 narcotics.

Swiss national Peter Balmer, 47, was arrested on Monday with possession and intent to smuggle 4 kg of cocaine at Phuket International Airport. To avoid detection, the contraband was in the form of black strips known as “black cocaine”, an intentionally adulterated form used to evade detection. It is then purified after it reaches its intended destination.

In the second bust, which occurred about 11pm Tuesday night, Sa Kaeo resident Pimpisa “Ja” Piangyotha, 39, was nabbed by officers with two kilos of pure cocaine in her luggage when she arrived for a Bangkok-bound flight.

Lt Col Prawit Engchuan of Phuket City Police said officers were tipped off by an unnamed informant that a large drug shipment from South America was expected to move through the airport.

Phuket City Police then coordinated with airport immigration, customs officers, and Thachatchai Police, all of whom were ordered on high alert, he said.

At this morning’s press conference at Phuket City Police Station, Phuket Provincial Police Commander Pekad Tantipong said investigators believed both suspects were part of the same network.

Balmer and Pimpisa denied this, saying they had never met before.

Balmer also told the Phuket Gazette he didn’t know that the black material he was carrying was cocaine until the police told him.

About 4pm on Monday, Balmer arrived at Phuket Airport. After passing through immigration and collecting his luggage at a baggage carousel, he proceeded to Customs clearance, police said.

When Customs officers examined his luggage with a scanning device, they became suspicious. After a thorough inspection of the bag, officers discovered two black sheets, each weighing 2 kilograms, concealed inside the luggage lining. It was later determined to be “black cocaine”.

Miss Pimpisa also said she was unaware of the drugs found in her possession, claiming that a man in Brazil had placed the drugs into her luggage without her knowledge.

The unnamed man was a friend of a black foreign man in Bangkok named “Mike,” with whom she had been acquainted for about six months but had little contact with over that period.

Despite this, Mike had sponsored her with a two-week “holiday” to Brazil, covering all of her expenses and giving her US$2,000 in cash, she said.

On the day of her return, Mike’s Brazilian friend placed a bag into her luggage, saying it was to be delivered to Mike.

Officers said the drugs in the two busts have a combined wholesale value of 18 million baht in Thailand.

The street value could run as high as 30 million baht, they added.

During the ensuing investigation, Balmer told police he had been living in Thailand for 4 or 5 years.

He had been supporting a Thai wife in Nakhon Ratchasima on a government disability pension he received from a carpentry accident, he said.

When the Swiss government canceled his pension 3 months ago, he became desperate for funds to cover overhead costs of his wife’s restaurant there.

He admitted he was hired by a man of African decent in Bangkok who agreed to pay him 200,000 baht (US$6,000) to bring a piece of luggage to Thailand from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where he claims the deal took place.

Balmer told the Gazette that he was advised to fly from Santa Cruz to the Bolivian capital of La Paz, then to Phuket via Sao Paolo, Dubai and Kuala Lampur.

He had yet to be contacted by Swiss Embassy officials, he added.

He will be held at Thachatchai Police Station while the legal case against him is processed, police said.

— Atchaa Khamlo & Steven Layne


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