Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — Thai investigative police raided a condominium in suburban Bangkok last Thursday, the hideout of a suspected drug dealer who had been on the run for months.
The man, who called himself Jimin Seong, was described by police as a “handsome Korean”, with wavy hair and smooth skin.
But appearances can be deceiving.
The suspect’s real name is Saharat Sawanjaeng, police said in a statement on Friday. The 25-year-old Thai national and Bangkok resident tried to reinvent himself as a “Korean man” by changing his name, his haircut and undergoing multiple plastic surgery procedures “until his face completely changed”, says the statement.
Before and after photos provided by police show a dramatically different appearance, with earlier photos bearing little immediate resemblance to the man pictured after.
Sawanjaeng had 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. It is allegedly one of the main sources of drug spread in and around Bangkok, according to the statement.
However, it had apparently disappeared, until police received rumors that the drugs were traced to a Korean dealer, prompting their investigation.
After his arrest, Sawanjaeng allegedly confessed to having “worldwide connections,” obtaining drugs from the dark web, and transacting via Bitcoin, according to the statement.
He spoke “very little Korean” but wanted to live in South Korea because he was “bored” with life in Thailand, he told police.
Photos from the raid show Sawanjaeng surrounded by police in the apartment before he was led away with his hands tied. He is charged with illegally importing and distributing a Schedule 1 drug into Thailand, offenses that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
His actions “affected national security and the safety of the general public” by causing the drug to “disseminate in public,” the statement added.
Like most of Southeast Asia, Thailand has traditionally had strict laws against drug use and trafficking, but has taken several steps to relax the rules in recent years.
A major legal amendment in 2017 changed the maximum punishment for selling drugs from the death penalty to life in prison. A broader set of amendments was produced 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, legalizing cannabis cafes, and smoking shops sprung up across the country.