Arrest of Traders with Illicit Antiquities
In a recent crackdown on illegal antiquities trading, Thai authorities arrested three men who were found digging up and selling historical artefacts online. Following police raids in Chiang Mai, Phayao, Sukhothai, and Lamphang provinces, a total of 970 artefacts were seized, along with 11 metal scanners, and various digging tools. Additionally, four bank accounts belonging to the suspects were frozen.
The Investigation and Sting Operation
The case began when the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) received information from conservationists about an illegal antiquities trading operation on Facebook. Collaborating with officials from the Fine Arts Department, they confirmed the reports and set up a sting operation to apprehend the individuals involved.
Posing as potential buyers, CSD officers contacted the Facebook group and arranged the purchase of two ancient statues. Upon receiving the items, they sent them to the Fine Arts Department for verification, which confirmed that the items were genuine antiquities. One of the artefacts was a 1,600-year-old engraved cow figurine, while the other was an elephant figurine with a seal dating back to the 21st century Buddhist Era, approximately 500 years ago.
Further Details Emerge
According to Pol Col Ekkasit Panseetha, superintendent of Crime Suppression Division sub-division 4, the suspects formed a team to excavate artefacts from ancient sites or retrieve them from major rivers in Phayao, Sukhothai, Lampang, and Ratchaburi provinces. They even recorded their diving activities and posted the videos online to attract customers.
The objects would then be listed for sale on Facebook or sold to shops dealing in antiquities in Chiang Mai, as described by Pol Col Ekkasit.
Suspects’ Defense and Earnings
The two suspects, Thotsaphorn Rermcham and his brother Thotsaphon Rermcham, claimed they were unaware that their actions were against the law. They stated that the money from the artefact sales was used to cover their daily expenses. However, the third suspect, Sri-on Chanthana, denied all charges.
Investigators estimate that the suspects earned about 200,000 baht ($6,000) per month from their illegal activities. Over the past three years, more than 10 million baht ($300,000) had circulated through their bank accounts.
Ongoing Efforts to Curb Illegal Antiquities Trade
This case highlights the ongoing efforts of Thai authorities to curb the illegal trade of historical artefacts and preserve the country’s rich heritage. The investigation is being extended to arrest other individuals involved in the crime. Meanwhile, the arrested suspects are currently held in police custody, awaiting legal action.