Last Thursday, Thai investigative police raided a condo in the suburbs of Bangkok – the hideout of an alleged drug smuggler who had been on the run for months.
The man, who went by the name Jimin Seong, was described to police as a “good looking Korean man,” with wavy hair and smooth skin.
But appearances can be deceiving.
The suspect’s real name is Saharat Sawanjaeng, police said in a news release on Friday. The 25-year-old, a Thai national and Bangkok resident, had attempted to reinvent himself as a “Korean man” by changing his name, his haircut and undergoing multiple plastic surgery procedures “until his face had completely changed,” said the release.
Before and after photos provided by the police show a dramatically different look, with earlier photos bearing little immediate resemblance to the man pictured afterward.
Saharat has been wanted since last year for allegedly importing more than 2,500 grams and 290 tablets of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, into Thailand. He is allegedly a major source of the drug spreading in Bangkok and the capital city’s surrounding area, said the release.
However, he had seemingly vanished – until police received rumors of the drugs being traced back to a Korean dealer, prompting their investigation.
After his arrest, Saharat allegedly confessed to having “worldwide connections,” sourcing drugs from the dark web and making transactions through Bitcoin, said the release.
He spoke “very little Korean,” but wanted to live in South Korea because he was “bored” of life in Thailand, he reportedly told police.
Photos of the raid show Saharat surrounded by police in the apartment before being led away with his hands restrained. He is being charged with importing and illegally distributing a category 1 drug into Thailand – both offenses carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
His actions “impacted national security and the general public’s safety” by causing the drug to become “widespread in public,” the release added.
Like most of Southeast Asia, Thailand has traditionally had strict laws against drug use and trafficking – but it has taken several steps in relaxing rules in recent years.
One major legal amendment in 2017 changed the maximum punishment for selling drugs from the death penalty to life imprisonment. A more sweeping set of amendments came in 2021 to emphasize prevention and treatment over punishment for small-scale drug users.
Most notably, Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis last year, with cannabis cafes and smoke shops quickly popping up across the country.