Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun is back in the spotlight over his alleged links with a crony of Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing who was arrested in Thailand on drug charges last year.
Opposition MP Rangsiman Rome from the Move Forward Party told Parliament earlier last month that Upakit was a long-time business partner of Myanmar tycoon Tun Min Latt. The Myanmar mogul was arrested in Bangkok last September and indicted in December on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.
Thai authorities have detained him along with three Thai nationals and confiscated over 500 million baht of their assets.
One of the three Thais arrested was Upakit’s son-in-law, Dean Young Gultula.
Another suspect still wanted by Thai police is a major shareholder in the senator’s business.
Tun Min Latt is said to enjoy close ties with Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power from an elected government in the February 2021 coup. Tun Min Latt has also reportedly procured weapons for Myanmar’s regime, which has launched a brutal campaign against a nationwide civilian uprising against military rule.
Opposition MP Rangsiman mentioned Upakit during the special parliamentary debate in an apparent bid to link him to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his new party Ruam Thai Sang Chart (United Thai Nation).
Upakit was appointed as a senator by Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order, the regime headed by coup-leader Prayut. And the headquarters of Prayut’s party also happens to be located at a property owned by Upakit in Bangkok’s Soi Ari area.
Upakit, 61, has denied he has a close relationship with the controversial Myanmar tycoon. He said he knew Tun Min Latt through an electricity supply business operating on the Thailand-Myanmar border but insisted he was not involved in any shady business with him.
However, shortly after the Myanmar tycoon’s arrest last year, the senator reportedly told media that Tun Min Latt was not involved with drugs or illegal weapons and suggested the legal trouble came from Western countries’ sanctions against the Myanmar junta.
Born on October 28, 1961, Upakit obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science from Skidmore College in the US and a master’s from Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium.
His father, Upadit, served as foreign minister in the governments of Thanin Kraivichien and General Kriangsak Chamanan between 1976 and 1980.
Upakit is also known as the ex-husband of outspoken politician Pareena Kraikupt, who was banned from politics for encroaching on state land. They divorced in December 2014 after having a son together.
Upakit worked in the Foreign Affairs Ministry for almost 10 years before resigning in 1999 at the age of 37 to set up a business. Thanks to his connections across the border, his business secured a $12-million deal with the previous Myanmar junta’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism to build and operate a hotel-casino in the border town of Tachileik.
He later set up a company called Allure Group to operate the Allure Resort Hotel. A separate company he owns, the Stock Exchange of Thailand-listed United Power of Asia, supplies power from Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority to Tachileik.
Another major stakeholder in Allure Group, Pannarong Khunpitak, is wanted by police for alleged involvement in drug trafficking and online gambling.
Upakit attributes his business success in neighbouring Myanmar to his strong connections there. He had good ties with former military strongman General Thein Sein and enjoys the same with current dictator Min Aung Hlaing.
But Upakit apparently sold his Myanmar businesses as well as his shares in Thai companies before taking up his post as a senator in May 2019.
In financial statements he submitted to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the senator said he sold the Allure Resort Hotel for $8.1 million (about 251.7 million baht) and divested his shares in United Power of Asia for 554 million baht. He declared assets worth 1.77 billion baht.
Rangsiman and his Move Forward colleagues have voiced suspicions that the senator has not actually sold his shares in Allure Resort Hotel. They said they will ask the NACC to investigate whether Upakit falsely declared his assets.
Upakit has hit back at allegations that he is involved in money laundering for a drugs ring by suing Rangsiman, lawyer Achariya Ruangratanapong, and TV news hosts Danai Ekamahasawat and Amornrat Mahitthirook for libel. The three lawsuits demand compensation of 100 million, 50 million, and 50 million baht, respectively. Upakit has pledged to donate the money to charity if he wins the cases.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk