After initially denying being jailed in Australia, Thammanat’s version of events shifted several times since this masthead uncovered the Sydney court files that revealed the extent of his involvement in the heroin-trafficking operation.
He claimed in the Thai Parliament to have been a witness in “state-sponsored accommodation” and, during a censure motion that he survived, forcefully declared he was arrested with flour not drugs.
Court records show Australian federal police had swapped the 74 per cent pure heroin with an inert substance before they stormed the Bondi hotel room where the deal went down.
Thammanat was a young soldier known as Manat Bophlom at the time of his arrest in 1993.
After he was released from Parklea prison and immediately deported, he rejoined the Thai army under a different name. He has gone by at least four identities and had a colourful life in the army and business before entering politics.
After the Herald and Age’s 2019 revelations about Thammanat’s past, questions also emerged about whether his PhD came from a fake university, and evidence surfaced that large parts of his doctorate had been plagiarised. At the time, the Prime Minister defended Thammanat and said the Australian jail time was a “small matter”. In the blizzard of negative publicity, Thammanat threatened to sue 100 people.
The political scandal swirling around Thammanat since the revelations went all the way to Thailand’s highest court.
The Constitutional Court ruled the conviction was no barrier to keeping a cabinet post, his four years in a Sydney jail was not a breach of the Thai constitution.
“We cannot implement the verdict of foreign courts, and we cannot interpret the verdict of foreign courts as having the same power as our courts,” the full bench found. “The verdict of any state only has effect in that state.”
Until he was ousted on Thursday, Thammanat was a key ally of top generals in the coalition government and helped secure a large number of votes in crucial elections.