By Syed Nazakat
Indian intelligence sleuths had been chasing him for the past two years. Finally, a timely and accurate tip-off they gave to the Thai police ended gunrunner Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich aka Willy Narue’s free run. The National Investigation Agency tracked him down to a spa in Bangkok, and a swift raid completed the operation.
The 57-year-old Thai national is likely to be extradited to India, as he is accused of supplying Chinese arms to insurgents in the northeast. A red-corner notice was issued against him, after his name surfaced in the arms trafficking network during the interrogation of a Naga insurgent, Anthony Shimray.
Wuthikorn’s arrest is a major breakthrough, as his grilling could provide evidence of alleged Chinese involvement in supplying arms to Indian insurgent outfits. Wuthikorn and his network of arms dealers have allegedly supplied weapons to virtually every armed group in the northeast. And the shipments came from China via Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh. In one case involving Naga militants, who have been leading one of India’s longest-running insurgencies, Wuthikorn had brokered a $2-million deal.
According to the NIA charge sheet, Shimray and Wuthikorn negotiated the deal in Bangkok on September 25, 2010.
With Wuthikorn’s help, Shimray contacted a representative of Chinese firm TCL, identified in the case documents as Yuthuna. The TCL web site says it is a top multinational electronics company headquartered in Huizhou, China. The NIA, however, suspects that the firm supplied arms to Naga militants.
The charge sheet against Shimray, Wuthikorn and two other men says the Chinese shipment included 600 AK-47 rifles, 2,000 grenades, sub-machine guns, rocket-launchers and ammunition. It was sent through a shipping agent in Bangkok.The consignment was to be shipped from Beihai port in South China Sea near Vietnam to Cox’s Bazar port in Bangladesh. From there, the weapons were to be loaded aboard fishing trawlers and smuggled into India. In May 2009, Shimray paid $1,00,000 to Wuthikorn, who transferred the funds to TCL. The NIA has the electronic receipt of the payment.
The delivery of arms, however, was foiled, as Shimray was arrested in Patna on October 2, 2010. His interrogation threw up the name of another Chinese firm—Norinco—in the arms trafficking network. Investigators suspect that Norinco, too, used Wuthikorn as a conduit to pump arms into Assam and Nagaland. Norinco is one of the oldest and largest Chinese arms factories. It manufactures an array of arms and equipment, including laser range-finders, tanks, artillery guns and missiles. The firm, like other Chinese arms manufacturers, has close ties with the People’s Liberation Army and mandarins in Beijing. And that is what makes Wuthikorn a big catch. Home ministry officials say though it is known that Indian insurgents have been procuring arms from Chinese companies, there has been little evidence. “Wuthikorn’s interrogation is important for us,” a senior home ministry official told THE WEEK. “It may throw up new information about the role of Chinese firms in selling arms to Indian insurgents.”
Wuthikorn’s arrest also underlines Thailand’s emergence as a hub of arms traffickers. Besides LTTE’s arms procurer Kumaran Padmanathan, many Indian underworld gangsters, too, have used Thailand as their operating base, thanks to the country’s strategic location and easy visa regime.
Underworld don Chhota Rajan, for instance, hid in a Bangkok safe house for long, before he was attacked by a rival gangster in 2000. According to his aide Santosh Shetty, who was deported from Thailand to India in 2011, Rajan fled Thailand with the help of local authorities.
Currently, an NIA team is camping in Bangkok to interrogate Wuthikorn and start the extradition process. NIA sources say they have robust evidence to pack him to India. India and Thailand signed an extradition treaty in May, but, given the Thai laws, the process might not be smooth. It took the US almost two years to secure the extradition of Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer who was arrested in Thailand in 2008. The matter could get tougher for India, as Wuthikorn is a Thai national.
As of now, says an NIA officer, the priority is to squeeze out information from Wuthikorn. And that is why the NIA wasted no time in sending its team to Bangkok to make him sing.
Gunning for the gunrunner
* Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich aka Willy Narue, 57, is wanted in India for supplying Chinese weapons to insurgent groups
* His network has allegedly supplied weapons to virtually every armed group in the northeast. The shipments came from China via Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh
* An NIA charge sheet notes his involvement in the shipment of Chinese arms, including 600 AK-47 rifles, 2,000 grenades, sub-machine guns, rocket-launchers and ammunition
* His interrogation could provide evidence of China’s machinations in the northeast
* Wuthikorn could give details about jailed Naga leader Anthony Shimray’s network. He was also in touch with absconding Naga dealers T.R. Cavlin and Hangshi Ramson
* Fresh information on the Mumbai underworld’s Thai links, too, might emerge
THE WEEK, September, 2013