Jindanai Inthachage, the 30-year-old driver of the van, picked up the tourists in Khao Lak and was taking them to Phuket International Airport as they were heading home on Tuesday (Nov 27), Khok Kloi Police Chief Col Gerasak Siamsak told The Phuket News.
The Toyota van was registered in Phuket as a commercial vehicle under the name ‘Phuket Transport Partnership Limited’, he added.
On the way to Phuket, Jindanai stopped off in Tai Muang, where his friend Yongyuth Rakmit, 43, lived.
Police already had Yongyuth and his house under surveillance following a tip-off that Yongyuth was smuggling drugs into Phuket by concealing them in household items.
At the house, officers led by Lt Col Techo Na Nakorn of Khok Kloi Police watched as Yongyuth and his friend Sirichai Rakmit, 27, carried out an old electric fan and placed it in the back of the van.
Then Jindanai drove off, with the tourists still on board.
The officers then stopped and searched the van at the Khok Kloi Intersection (see map below).
On searching the van, they disassembled the pedestal base of the fan and found three plastic packs each containing 2,000 pills ya bah. Each of the three packs contained 10 bags, each holding 200 pills.
Following the discovery of the drugs, a splinter group of the investigation team moved in and arrested Yongyuth and Sirichai at the house in Tai Muang, Col Gerasak explained.
All three – Jindanai, originally from Stun province, as well as Yongyuth and Sirichai, both Phang Nga natives – were taken to Khok Kloi Police Station and charged with possession ya bah with intent to sell, Col Gerasak confirmed.
The three tourists were given a first-class ride to Phuket airport by police to make sure they did not miss their flights, Col Gerasak added.
Col Gerasak urged all tourists, “Please be aware of the vehicle that you are getting in, especially if there is anything in the van that does not belong there.
“And if you can keep your bags locked or sealed, please do it - because some bad guys might put something illegal, such as ya bah, in your bag,” he warned.