Couple sentenced to death after allegedly trying to smuggle half a ton of meth
An Australian man and his Thai wife have been sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle $216 million ($AU300 million) worth of drugs into Thailand.
Luke Cook, 34, and Kanyarat Wechapitak, 40, were arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in December 2017 over a 2015 plot to smuggle half a ton of crystal meth into the Southeast Asian country, and then into Australia.
Cook, who is reportedly a member of the Hells Angels biker gang, has been accused of masterminding the scheme to move the drugs by boat. Thai authorities claim that the 34-year-old was paid $10 million (AU$13.8 million) by high-ranking Hells Angels member, Wayne Schneider - who was murdered in Thailand in November 2015 - to ship the drugs over.
He is said to have dumped a large amount of the drugs overboard after being spotted by Thai authorities; about 110 pounds of drugs washed ashore at Mae Ramphueng beach near Pattaya in June 2015.
"It is a big transnational crime organisation which is just escalating its operations in Thailand," Major General Apichat Sirisith told media at the time.
Personal assets belonging to Cook and Wechapitak, including luxury cars, bikes, guns, money and houses, worth $800,000 were confiscated by police as part of the investigation.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson refused to comment specifically on Cook, but stated the Australian government was currently providing consular assistance to an Australian in Thailand.
"Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment," the spokeswoman said in a statement.
The case is the latest in a string of high-profile drug trafficking cases in Asia involving Australian nationals over the past few years.
In 2017, notorious alleged drug smuggler Schapelle Corby arrived back in Australia for the first time in 13 years, after being arrested in 2004.
Accused of transporting 4.1kg of marijuana that customs officers found in her bag, Corby denied the allegations.
However, prosecutors dismissed her denial and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Her sentence was reduced in 2014 after nine years behind bars, and the then-39-year-old was released from prison.
Furthermore, a group of nine Australians - referred to as the 'Bali Nine' were convicted of trying to smuggle 8.3 kg of heroin out of Indonesia into Australia in April 2005.
Ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death and executed by firing squad in 2015. Six other members - Si Yi Chen, Michael Czugaj, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, Matthew Norman, Scott Rush, and Martin Stephens - were sentenced to life imprisonment, and Renae Lawrence to a 20-year sentence.
However, just this week the Bali provincial correction division told Fairfax media that 41-year-old Renae Lawrence would be the first member of the Bali Nine to be released, 12 years after she went to jail. She is free to return home on November 21.