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BANGKOK: In what ap­pears 1997 to be a slick move plucked from the John Woo-di­rected Hol­ly­wood ac­tion movie, Face Off, one of the most no­to­ri­ous drug lords in Thai­land is giv­ing its drug en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties the runaround af­ter hav­ing un­der­gone plas­tic surgery to evade de­tec­tion.

It is un­der­stood the fugi­tive could well be head­ing for Cam­bo­dia or Malaysia for his next “safe haven” as his hide­out in Laos is fast be­com­ing un­safe for him, fol­low­ing a re­cent crack­down by that coun­try’s au­thor­i­ties.

“Our in­tel­li­gence has shown that he has un­der­gone fa­cial plas­tic surgery to evade cap­ture, but we do not know what kind of surgery he has un­der­gone,” Thai­land’s Of­fice of Nar­cotics Con­trol Board head Sirinya Sit­dichai said here re­cently.

Us­ing plas­tic surgery to al­ter one’s ap­pear­ance to evade ar­rest is not un­prece­dented or only con­fined to movies as Thai au­thor­i­ties found out last July when they ar­rested a 62-year-old Ja­panese man who con­fessed to un­der­go­ing surgery to avoid ar­rest for past of­fences.

The man was on the run for 10 years for stock ma­nip­u­la­tion charges in Ja­pan and was de­ported fol­low­ing his ar­rest.

The Thai drug lord, listed as one of the most hunted and sought-af­ter crim­i­nals in Thai­land, has been on the run from the au­thor­i­ties for more than 10 years and was be­lieved to be in hid­ing in Laos, where he was thought to be pro­tected by its lo­cal pow­er­ful drug syn­di­cates.

How­ever, fol­low­ing a re­cent crack­down by the Laos au­thor­i­ties, the fugi­tive, who has a two mil­lion baht (RM250,000) bounty on his head, has been on the run again, with ei­ther Cam­bo­dia or Malaysia as his pos­si­ble safe haven, ac­cord­ing to Sirinya.

“We have an­a­lysed all the in­for­ma­tion, and he could pos­si­bly go to Cam­bo­dia, which is near Laos, or Malaysia, where he still could count on his drug net­work (for pro­tec­tion),” he said of the wanted man, who is from Narathi­wat in south­ern Thai­land.

Thai au­thor­i­ties had pre­vi­ously al­leged that the fugi­tive car­ried dual Thai and Malaysia cit­i­zen­ship, which could ex­plain his pref­er­ence for choos­ing Malaysia as his next “safe haven”.

Sirinya said the drug lord was thought to have fled the In­dochina coun­try when Thai and Laos drug en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties height­ened co­op­er­a­tion, which saw the ar­rest of a Lao­tian who was dubbed the “Asean drug lord” at the Su­varn­ab­humi Air­port last Jan­uary.

The noose around the drug lord was tight­ened when Laos au­thor­i­ties ar­rested two hench­men of the “Asean drug lord” early this year and last month.

A source said the Thai fugi­tive had as­sumed a new Lao­tian name, “Souk Xaysana”, and mar­ried a Lao­tian woman, be­sides hold­ing large busi­ness en­ter­prises in the coun­try, in­clud­ing a car show­room, rub­ber plan­ta­tion, re­sort, and gold and cop­per mines. Ber­nama

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