US International Law
A Case Study in Thailand
Jonathan W. Leeds**
Chaninat & Leeds Co., Ltd., Thailand
United States government places a high priority on international law enforcement,
and plays a leading role in the International Police Organization (Interpol).
Each year the United States enacts new laws, and amends old laws in an
effort to expand its international law enforcement powers, particularly
in the areas of drug trafficking, high tech smuggling, and terrorist activity.1 This expanding US interest in international law enforcement has resulted
in a great number of US agencies, resources, and projects being carried
out in foreign countries. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been at
the forefront of this activity, with its agents and representatives performing
a plethora of activities in foreign nations.2
DEA maintains the largest overseas law enforcement presence of any US
civilian agency. Their agents represent the United States interest in
international drug control both within the United States embassies and
in diplomatic interactions with host state officials. They maintain communication
with local law enforcement officials, provide training for local police,
undertake joint drug enforcement operations with local police, conduct
unilateral actions such as surveillance and the recruitment of informants,
provide intelligence to local officials, and lobby for changes in their
host countries laws.3
has been an area of particular interest to the United States government,
and the DEA, primarily because of the belief that it serves as the primary
conduit for heroin from the Golden Triangle transported to The United
States.4 Working in conjunction with Thai
officials, the DEA has been successful at infiltrating heroin trafficking
organizations within Thailand at the highest levels, ensnaring prominent
Thai government and military officials, and extraditing them to stand
trial in the United States.
with its unique legal system and cultural heritage, presents special problems
and issues when confronted by the interdiction of the United States government
agencies such as the DEA. These issues include the principles of Sovereignty,
Conflict of Laws, and the practical implementation of binational law enforcement
cooperation and extradition agreements. This article analyzes the legal
processes used by the United States, and the problems it encounters, in
both expanding and enforcing its law enforcement jurisdiction internationally,
and particularly within Thailand. It also examines the effects of such
extraterritorial imposition of law enforcement power by US agencies upon
foreign legal systems, and in particular, the Thai legal system.
origins of Thai law have been traced to three general sources: Thai Customary
Law, Buddhist Law, and Chinese/Maritime Law.5 During the Lanna Kingdom period of Thailand’s history, which began in
the year 1296 AD, the influence of Buddhism on the secular6 law was particularly strong. Royal Decrees and judgments frequently made
direct comparisons between state law and religious texts. Similarly, the
Buddhist influence also manifested itself through the use of monks as
the official scribes and chief scholars for the Kingdom. Aspects of the
Vinaya, a religious text which originally was a code of conduct for the
guidance of the Sangha (monk) community, were also the source of much
process of reformation and westernization of Thailand’s legal system occurred
primarily during the period between 1880 and 1930. 7 King Rama V, also known as King Chulalongkorn, initiated the process of
reformation by enlisting the aid of foreign legal experts from such countries
as England, Belgium and Japan, to work in conjunction with the Thai Ministry
of Justice. The reformation committee, thus formed, decided to rely primarily
on the Code System of Law (also known as the Civil Law System), because
of its simplicity, clarity, and ease of organization. The committee decided
to retain certain aspects of the Common Law System as well.8 Current Thai law is thus a combination of the Civil Law System, Common
Law9, and Thai Traditional Law. This eclectic
legal heritage has affected the way the modern Thai legal system approaches
extraterritorial application of foreign laws within their state, and against
Thailand is a democratic constitutional monarchy that has recently adopted
a new Constitution10 that provides for
a wide range of civil rights, including the right to privacy and the right
to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Since Thailand relies
primarily on the Civil Law System, the decisions of Thailand’s Courts
do not have precedential weight, except for the decisions of their Supreme
Court, which are considered secondary authority.
United States law enforcement interest in Thailand is justified primarily
on the belief that Thailand serves as the primary conduit for heroin from
the Golden Triangle to be transported to the United States.11 United States government law enforcement activities within Thailand include
the DEA cooperating closely with the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, units
of the Border Patrol Police, and Provincial Police departments, providing
intelligence, operational support and expertise in many major narcotic
cases. The US government has provided commodity support to law enforcement
officials, and the US Department of Defense through the US Customs provides
training for the Royal Thai Customs, and supports a regional center in
Phuket to monitor the movement of small vessels suspected of smuggling
Drug Enforcement Agents have also operated independently within Thailand,
conducting surveillance, and using undercover informants and agents to
collect evidence against drug smugglers within Thailand, who are then,
typically, arrested after their arrival in the United States. 13 These cases, however, usually involving non-Thai nationals, present considerably
less procedural complications, and general controversy, than those cases
which involve the arrest of Thai Nationals on Thai soil, and their extradition
to the United States.
Operation Tiger Trap
DEA considers Operation Tiger Trap to be their most ambitious venture
to date to disrupt heroin trafficking operations in Thailand.14 The defendants included Thai citizens, some of whom occupied high level
positions within the Thai government. The 13 principle defendants were
considered by the DEA to be high level operators in the heroin trafficking
industry in Thailand, and had been indicted in the US Federal Court for
the Eastern District of New York. 15 These
cases, because they involved a significant infringement of Thai sovereignty,
i.e., the arrest of Thai nationals on Thai soil, and their extradition
outside their homeland stand trial in the United States created considerable
controversy among Thai government officials, and the Thai public.
Fu-Sheng and Thanong Siripreechapong were among several defendants, eight
of whom were Thai nationals, arrested throughout Thailand in November
of 1994 at the request of the DEA.16
January 10, 1995, US authorities requested the extradition of Chao Fu-Sheng.
Although Chao agreed to the US request for extradition, and formally requested
his own extradition, on January 17, 1995 the Thai Cabinet passed a resolution
that allowed the Thai courts to consider the US request for Chao’s extradition.
extradition of Chao Fu-Sheng was opposed by Minister of Parliament Piyanat
Watcharaporn, who argued that the matter should be handled internally
for the sake of the dignity of the country. However, pursuant to Article
15 of the 1983 Thai-US extradition treaty, a request such as Chao’s for
voluntary extradition precluded the need for legal procedure.17 Furthermore, the Foreign Minister, and the Attorney General, arguing in
favor of Chao’s extradition, stated that the extradition of Thanong Siripreechapong,
who was himself a former Chart Thai Member of Parliament, had already
set precedent in this matter.18 Ultimately,
on April 9, 1996, the Thai Cabinet approved the extradition of Chao Fu-Sheng
to stand trial in the US.
recently, Li Yun-Chung, accused of involvement in the biggest heroin shipment
in United States history, involving some 486 kilograms,19 was arrested in Thailand on July 23, 1996, and then detained in a Bangkok
special prison until being released on bail on February 7, 1997.20 Li, who was fighting his extradition to the United States, fled after
his release from custody, and was believed to have entered Burma. This
situation resulted in the United States Embassy lodging objections to
Li’s release with Thai authorities.21
decision by the judge, former Deputy Chief Justice, Somchai Udomwang,
to release Li on bail led to protests from the US government, and to allegations
of corruption within the Thai Judiciary.22 Somchai Udomwang later faced an investigation and disciplinary action by the Thailand Ministry of Justice based
on his decision to grant Li bail.23 After
his recapture, Li Yun-Chung alleged that he had paid bribes in order to
secure bail, and now feared for his life.24 Then, in a turnabout from his earlier position, Li voluntarily requested
his immediate extradition to the United States.25
Chaninat & Leeds Co., Ltd., (Attorney at Law, State of Hawaii, U.S.A.,
Federal District for the State of Hawaii) B.A. University of Texas 1983,
J.D. University of Houston 1986.
This article originally appeared in the Journal of International Law and Practice Volume 7, Issue 1, Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University, Spring 1998.
1) Ethan Nadelmann, The Role of the United States in
the International Enforcement of Criminal Law, 31 Harvard Law Journal
37, 39 (1990)
2) Id. at 39.
3) Id. at 48.
4) US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics
Matters, Narcotics Control Strategy-Thailand, International Narcotics
Control Strategy Report (last modified November 13, 1995)
5) Andrew Huxley Foreword to THAI LAW: BUDDHIST LAW, ESSAYS
ON THE LEGAL HISTORY THAILAND LAOS AND BURMA, (Andrew Huxley, ed., 1996)
at page 16
6) Aroonrut Wichienkeeo, Lanna Customary Law in THAI LAW:
BUDDHIST LAW, ESSAYS ON THE LEGAL HISTORY THAILAND LAOS AND BURMA, (Andrew
Huxley, ed., White Orchid Press 1996) at 31-36.
7) Andrew Huxley, supra note 1 at 6.
8) THANIN KAIWICHAIN, LAW REFORMATION IN THE PERIOD OF
KING RAMA V 6-21 (Printing Office of the Prime Minister 2511).
9) The “Common law” system derives its heritage primarily
from England, and relies on judicial decisions to comprise the body of
its law, rather than strictly legislative enactments. see BLACK’S LAW
DICTIONARY, 6TH ED., 276
10) Ratatamanoon Haang Rachanajak Thai (Constitution of
11) US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotic
Matters, supra note at 1.
12) Id. at 4.
13) See e.g. United States v. Ligenfelter, 997
F.2d 632 (9th Cir. 1993); United States v. Kimball, 975 F.2d 563 (9th
Cir. 1992); United States v. Monroe, 943 F.2d 563 (9th Cir. 1991); United
States v. Ogbuehi 18 F.3d 897 (9th Cir. 1994).
14) Drug Enforcement Administration Briefing Book, US
Department of Justice, Operation Tiger Trap,
briefing pubs dea www.usdoj.gov>
16) Associate of Khun Sa to be extradited, Bangkok
Post, April 10, 1997.
17) Article 15 allows for a simplified procedure, and
states that: “ If the person irrevocably agrees in writing to extradition
after personally being advised by the competent authority of his right
to formal extradition proceedings and the protection afforded by them,
the Requested State may grant extradition without formal extradition proceedings.”
Extradition Treaty, December 14, 1983, US-Thail., Hein’s KAV 1940, Senate
Treaty Doc. 98-16, Executive Congress No. 98-29 (entered into force May
18) Associate of Khun Sa to be Extradited, supra Note 16.
19) Nusara Thaitawat and Veera Prateepchaikul, Suspect
in record United States drugs seizure jumps bail, Bangkok Post, March
12, 1997 .
22) A decision regretted, Bangkok Post, March 20,
24) Caroline Lurie, Drug Lord Fears For Life and Calls
for extradition, Thailand Times, May 5, 1997