Jogger sounds drug alert, a surrogate’s tale, painter’s pride

Date rape drug turns up in park

A keen jogger in Nonthaburi is sounding the alert after he set down drinking water in a public park which was injected with a powerful sedative.

Wiroj Sailabat, 42, says he drank the water after returning from his nightly jog and half an hour later almost collapsed. He believes ill-intentioned types, possibly hoping to rob him, injected the bottle with the drug while he left it unattended on a seat.

The drinking water bottle with the hole at the top.

Mr Wiroj left the unopened bottle in a public park by the Nonthaburi town hall on June 19. After his jog, he returned for the bottle and took a few sips before leaving the park on his motorcycle to join some work friends in Bangkok. About half an hour later as they started their meal, he felt dizzy and close to collapse.

He asked his friends to admit him to hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with symptoms similar to a stroke. On Sunday, having recovered from his illness, he took a closer look at the water bottle, and found a small pinprick near its neck.

He suspects someone injected the drug into the water so as to knock him unconscious and rob him.

Weerachai Phutdhawong, a well-known chemistry lecturer at Kasetsart University, on Thursday tested the water and revealed it contained the animal sedative Xylazine, a controlled drug which is available on the internet and has been used in date rape and robbery cases.

Mr Wiroj’s tale, reported widely in the Thai media, earlier drew Nonthaburi’s most senior public officials to the park to inspect security.

The jogger, who has run in the park every day for several years, left the water on a seat close to a futsal playing area in an open, well-lit area. The park has 10 security cameras, which park officials are now checking in the wake of the incident.

Mr Wiroj said he routinely buys drinking water from a vendor in the park. About 1,000 locals visit for exercise every day and according to the vendor, none had reported any problems. Many, like Mr Wiroj, leave their drinking water on a seat as they set out on their jog, and return for it later.

Mr Wiroj said when he returned for the bottle and took a quick drink he noticed the taste was odd but thought nothing of it. About 20 minutes later as he sat with friends he took a sip of his beer and started to feel sick. “My tongue was hard, my eyes half-closed, and I felt giddy. I thought I was about to collapse so asked my friends to take me to hospital,” he said.

His doctor said while the symptoms were similar to a stroke, he may also have been exposed to a chemical substance, and the alcohol may have set it off. It is not known when the culprits injected the drug and some experts have asked how Mr Wiroj failed to notice his bottle was leaking from the hole at the top when he took the first few sips. Some netizens started to ask whether he made up the tale to draw attention to himself.

The provincial governor, tambon president and police who inspected the park have ordered tighter security, including more guards, better lighting, and more cameras.

Mr Wiroj said he gave a urine and blood test and did not expect results until next month. However, journalists took a sample of the water to Dr Weerachai, who was able to give his results much sooner. By Thursday he declared the water was tainted with Xylazine, and Mr Wiroj, who was attacked on social media for blackening Nonthaburi’s good name, breathed a sigh of relief. However, authorities are no closer to finding out who did it.

Mr Wiroj, who alerted Rattanathibet police, said he would like to warn joggers against leaving their water unattended in a public place. The water vendor said she buys it from a nearby supermarket and was worried about the impact the drama would have on sales.

Cops call time on surrogate gang

More evidence of a commercial surrogacy racket in Chon Buri and Bangkok has been unmasked thanks to the Covid-19 flight ban, which forced surrogate mothers to give birth here rather than in China as planned, drawing the attention of neighbours.

Police Region 2 and Chon Buri provincial police on June 18 arrested five people in a scam financed by a Chinese investor who has visited Thailand in the guise of a tour group member.

He acts on behalf of Chinese customers who hire Thai women as surrogates. The Thai wombs-for-hire scam lets them choose the gender of the child, with most preferring boys. It is also cheaper than assisted reproductive technology in their home country.

Since Thailand passed a law banning commercial surrogacy, gangs have had to get creative, taking surrogates to clinics across the border where they are impregnated. Nine months later they are brought back again or sent to China to give birth. However, the Covid-19 virus has thrown their plans awry, with many surrogates forced to give birth in the country, drawing the attention of locals.

Police have identified 12 mothers recruited by the gang which they say is part of a bigger racket which also has roots in the North and Northeast. It comes after the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division on May 30 arrested 22 people, including four state doctors, working for what they say is an international surrogacy syndicate. They also seized assets worth almost 1 billion baht.

Police say their latest inquiries started with a tip-off in late May to Saen Suk police in Chon Buri that two locals were part of a surrogacy gang. The police spoke to sisters Pennapa Wattana-in, 35, and Prakaikaew Puthchok, 30, who admitted working for the gang as surrogates, with Pennapa having given birth three times, earning 450,000 baht a time.

They were staying with their mother, who runs a shop from their townhouse and who claimed to know nothing about the scheme. She did not ask who the father was, she said. The gang limits the women to three births each, after which many turn into recruiting agents, signing up friends, relatives or neighbours. This has resulted in networks of surrogates springing up nationwide.

Pennapa said she recruited her younger sister, who was eight months pregnant when arrested. They said two agents, identified as Pornthiwa “Wan” Raemee and Malisa “Jin” Songmuang, recruit women, and arrange travel and payments. They were later arrested.

The gang looks for surrogates aged 20-35 who have given birth before. They are usually taken to Cambodia or China for the artificial insemination procedure, though clinics and hospitals in Bangkok can also perform it illegally. In that case, the Chinese investor will smuggle in his client’s sperm when he comes for one of his “tours”.

Police with the surrogate mothers to three newborns they found in Huay Kwang.

The surrogate mothers return to Thailand and convalesce at home or housing arranged by the agents until they come to term. Surrogates usually go to China or Cambodia to give birth, though since the Covid-19 flight ban took effect they have been unable to travel, forcing three women to give birth locally.

Pennapa said women who give birth to healthy male babies weighing at least 3kg get a bonus paid out in gold. Surrogates are paid 30,000 baht a month while pregnant with the total payout coming to 450,000 baht. As soon as the child is born it is whisked away to the parents, with mothers not given a chance to see the child’s face.

Police say inquiries revealed the gang had delivered one child to parents in China. Seven women were waiting to give birth, and three had already done so with the help of a clinic in Ratchadaphisek. A day after the initial arrests, police travelled to a house in Huay Kwang where they found the three surrogate mothers trapped by the Covid-19 flight ban and their newborns, three boys aged one month.

The children have been taken into care. Police are tracking down other gang members and have asked international police to find the Chinese financier.

Young man finds his muse

A young artist, Krittameht “Earth” Saisaen 18, is gaining a name for himself as a landscape painter, applying acrylic to canvas at his grandparents’ home in the hope of saving enough to go to college.

Krittameht ‘Earth’ Saisaen

Earth, who is about to enter Mathayom 6 at Huaimek Wittayakom School in Kalasin, has been hosting visits by curious school groups and the president of the local tambon after his headmaster last week posted his story to social media.

The youngster, who said he discovered a talent for drawing four or five years ago, and boosted his skills with help from his art teacher and YouTube videos, paints in his spare time when not helping his grandparents, aged 77 and 80, in the fields.

Headmaster Thawatchai Samranwong said other children have been motivated to take up drawing since seeing what Earth can do. When his school mates, neighbours and locals saw how dedicated he was, they started ordering paintings from Earth to give him encouragement. Later, he started entering competitions and winning prizes.

He is keen on nature so his paintings often depict families working the land and caring for the environment. Customers can pay up to 2,000 a painting and he makes an average of 20,000 baht a month.

One of Krittameht’s paintings.

The young man comes from a struggling family and raises most of the household income. His younger brother entered the monkhood as a novice while he studies at school. The boys’ mother died two years ago and their father has started a new family, leaving them orphans.

Earth said he wants to study at the Arsom Silp Institute of the Arts and one day become an architect. He will put the proceeds from his art sales towards tuition fees as he doesn’t want his grandparents to sell their land or get into debt. Since his story was shared he has been contacted by 20 customers. His contact number for those interested in buying his work is 09-4258-6777.