‘Biggest ever ketamine haul’ of Thailand turns out to be stain remover

The biggest ever haul of ketamine in Thailand has been exposed as the seizure of stain remover by red-faced officials.

The Office of Narcotics Control Board's (ONCB) claim that police seized a shipment of ketamine worth over £700 million turns out to have been a mistake.

Wichai Chaimongkhol, the ONCB secretary-general, told reporters after the “drugs bust” that the shipment was “the largest amount ever seized in Thailand".

Police estimated the street value of the “illegal drugs” at 28.7bn baht – just over £710m.

But now, red-faced police chiefs have admitted that the “ketamine” now appears to be trisodium phosphate – a perfectly legal chemical that an effective stain remover and is also sometimes used as lubricant, food additive, stain remover, and degreaser.

The chemical is listed on food packaging as E339 and is often used to prevent clumping or excess acidity in processed foods.

But it’s commonly shipped in white powder form, which is what led to what Thai police acre cling a "technical error” in this case.

Over eleven 11.5 tonnes of the powder were seized from a Thai warehouse after a tip-off from Taiwan.

In a triumphant press conference, Mr Chaimongkhol said it was the largest amount of illegal drugs ever seized in Thailand. But now Thai justice minister Somsak Thepsuthin says it "might have been premature to hold a press conference” before thorough lab tests had been completed.

A field test for ketamine can also give a false positive in the presence of trisodium phosphate, and that appears to have been what happened in this case.

"This was a misunderstanding that our agency must accept," Mr Somsak told reporters, adding that there was a "technical error in the field”.

Mr Chaimongkol, has stressed that that there are still 415 sacks that have not yet been tested, and that some ketamine may be present in the packages.

He said “However, it is not possible to confirm at the moment if the amount of Ketamine will be discovered after completing the examination since all of the bags might be used to disguise and deceive officials when smuggling ketamine that might have been already smuggled to Taiwan, as their authorities had alerted us on September.”

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