Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) Last Thursday, Thai investigative police raided an apartment in the suburbs of Bangkok – the hideout of an alleged drug trafficker who had been on the run for months.
The man, who went by the name Jimin Seong, was described by police as a “handsome Korean man”, with wavy hair and smooth skin.
But looks can be deceiving.
The suspect’s real name is Saharat Sawanjaeng, police said in a press release on Friday. The 25-year-old, a Thai citizen and resident of Bangkok, had attempted to reinvent himself as a “Korean man” by changing his name, haircut and undergoing several plastic surgery procedures “until his face had completely changed,” the release said . .
Before and after photos provided by the police show a dramatically different appearance, with earlier photos bearing little immediate resemblance to the man pictured afterwards.
Sawanjaeng has been wanted since last year for allegedly importing more than 2,500 grams and 290 tablets of MDMA, known as ecstasy or molly, into Thailand. He is allegedly an important source of the substance that is spreading in Bangkok and the capital’s surroundings, the report says.
However, he had apparently disappeared – until police received rumors that the drugs were traced back to a Korean dealer, prompting their investigation.
After his arrest, Sawanjaeng allegedly confessed to having “worldwide connections”, obtaining drugs from the dark web and making transactions through Bitcoin, the release said.
He spoke “very little Korean” but wanted to live in South Korea because he was “tired” of life in Thailand, he is said to have told the police.
Pictures of the raid show Sawanjaeng surrounded by police in the apartment before he was taken away with his hands restrained. He is charged with importing and illegally distributing a category 1 substance into Thailand – both offenses carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
His actions “impacted national security and public safety” by causing the drug to become “widespread in the public domain,” 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 to relax the rules in recent years.
A major change in the law in 2017 changed the maximum penalty for selling drugs from the death penalty to life imprisonment. A more comprehensive set of changes came in 2021 to emphasize prevention and treatment rather than punishment for small-time 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.