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AustraliaThe newspaper clipping that confirmed a criminal politician was bluffing

23:50  08 september  2019
23:50  08 september  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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It’s the newspaper clipping buried in the archives that confirmed a rich, powerful and criminal politician was bluffing . When newly appointed Thai cabinet minister Thammanat Prompao stood before the media in July to address a dark past in Sydney he dismissed the significance of the court

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The newspaper clipping that confirmed a criminal politician was bluffing© Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Thai minister Thammanat Prompao and the 1993 newspaper clipping about his arrest in Sydney.

It’s the newspaper clipping buried in the archives that confirmed a rich, powerful and criminal politician was bluffing.

When newly appointed Thai cabinet minister Thammanat Prompao stood before the media in July to address a dark past in Sydney he dismissed the significance of the court case.

“You can ask the court in Sydney whether what I’m saying is true or not,” he said.

So we did.

But when the Herald applied for court documents under his name, we came up with nothing.

He had gone by several aliases in the past. Those too turned up nothing.

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Thammanat acknowledged his arrest took place in Sydney in April 1993, so the Herald asked our librarians for that year’s files about drug crimes, and all deportations in the mid-1990s.

This wasn’t simply a fishing expedition – a new minister for an important trading partner and popular tourist destination was skirting allegations and making very specific legalistic denials.

“I didn’t import, produce or deal heroin,” he said. All true.

The newspaper clipping that confirmed a criminal politician was bluffing© Fairfax Media The Herald news clip from April 16, 1993 which details Manat Bophlom's appearance in court. But among the six-inch stack of stories was a news brief, just three sentences in the Herald on April 16, 1993, detailing four arrests. It was the eureka moment.

Two Australian men and two Thai nationals appeared in Central Local Court yesterday after police seized $4.2 million of high-grade heroin from a Sydney hotel. The Australian Federal Police charged Sam Calabrese, 38, of Bondi Beach, Mario Constantino, 46, of Rockdale, Sorasat Tiemtad, 39, and Manat Bophlom, 27, both from Bangkok, with conspiring to import 3.2 kilograms of heroin. The magistrate, Mr Boyd Cleary, remanded the four in custody until May 27.

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The newspaper clipping that confirmed a criminal politician was bluffing
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The snippet provided a name we could check with the courts – Manat Bophlom. The time, place and age matched; the name was close.

We got a hit in the database. A file existed, but it was in deep storage and could take months to retrieve.

In the meantime, we worked to confirm Thammanat’s identity as Manat and any links with his co-accused.

As Thammanat was protesting his innocence, a man identifying himself as Sorasat Tiemtad spoke of the day the two of them were arrested along with two Australians. In backing Thammanat’s version of events, he had confirmed the connection – Sorasat was defending the minister in 2019, while the courts and clipping say Sorasat was accused in 1993 with Manat.

Then another breakthrough – the court file turned up.

There were incredible similarities between Thammanat and Manat. Same birthdate, same military training history, same lawyer, same co-accused half-brother. Same four-year gap in the story while serving at her majesty’s pleasure in Parklea prison.

Most significantly it provided details of his complicity in a conspiracy to import 3.2kg of heroin, a scheme that unravelled four hours after he cleared customs. What’s more, he pleaded guilty.

The case against Calabrese was dismissed.

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