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Thai Gunrunner, Held by NIA, Reveals Naga Rebels’ China Arms Deal

The NIA’s successful extradition of a Thai gunrunner to India has largely gone unnoticed, writes Subir Bhaumik.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Extradited prisoner from Thailand, Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich, has blown the lid off an arms deal between a Chinese defence firm and the NSCN(IM). (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

This is, without a doubt, the biggest intelligence coup by an Indian agency in recent years – but one largely missed by the media.

Bringing back an ageing Mumbai don Chhota Rajan from Australia or ULFA’s Anup Chetia from Dhaka, getting back a few radicals from the Gulf or dragging back the Northeast rebel chieftains from Bangladesh have all been talked about – as has been India’s failure to get Danish gunrunner Niels Christian Nielsen alias Kim Davy extradited.

But NIA’s successful extradition of the Thai gunrunner, Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich alias Willy, to stand trial in India last month is the biggest of them all.

This will surely help push the NSCN(IM), with whom negotiations for a final settlement of the Naga problem is at an advanced stage, on the defensive.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: iStockphoto/Altered by The Quint)

Exposing the Illicit Chinese Link

And it is likely to expose the illicit Chinese connections in the region’s clandestine arms trade as never before.

It is now evident that even while negotiating with the Indian government, the NSCN(IM) was all set to induct  a huge consignment of weapons into the northeast through the Cox’s Bazar coast of Bangladesh in 2010. It, however, fell through after NSCN(IM)’s chief of procurement Anthony alias Nikhang Shimray was arrested in Nepal and handed over to Indian authorities.

This is the first time India has successfully managed to secure the extradition of a foreign national to stand trial in India in a case with serious trans-regional implications for India’s security.

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Snapshot

A Good Catch

  • Thai gunrunner Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich alias Willy is the link between Indian separatist rebels and China’s state-owned ordnance firm Norinco
  • The NSCN(IM) was using him to bring in a huge consignment of weapons into the Northeast through Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar coast in 2010
  • This attempt was made when the NSCN (IM) was very much involved in negotiations with the Indian government
  • The NIA has complete detail of the money trail including receipts of payments made to various agents for procuring these big consignment
  • One of the accused has turned approver in the case and Willy on his extradition to India has been ‘broadly cooperating’
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Willy’s Vicious Plans

During the first round of interrogation conducted by the NIA, Willy has finally blown the lid off the $1.2 million deal that he had signed with Anthony Shimray alias Nikhang Shimray.

The consignment Shimray was planning to bring through Cox’s Bazar in 2010 was smaller than the one seized at Chittagong in April 2004. The seizures by the Chittagong police had to be carried off in ten trucks and could arm a full army brigade and now ULFA’s Paresh Barua, two former Bangladesh ministers and two former intelligence chiefs have been sentenced to death by a special Chittagong court.



(Photo: iStock/Altered by The Quint)
(Photo: iStock/Altered by The Quint)

But the one Shimray was planning to bring included 1,000 AK-74 and AK-56 rifles, 50 universal machine guns and as many rocket launchers along with a huge assortment of ammunition.

But NIA officials are inclined to believe this was a ‘route-tester’, perhaps akin to the 1995 Purulia armsdrop – more weapons would be brought in if the first consignment passed through without a hassle.

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Nabbing the Accused

The NIA had filed the charge sheet in an Indian court against Shimray and three others but one of them has turned approver and spilled the beans.

Then the NIA moved a court in Thailand and secured the extradition of Bangkok-based gunrunner Willy to India after receiving ‘robust evidence’ about his efforts to mediate the arms deal between the NSCN(IM) and Chinese arms manufacturer.

Willy’s appeal failed in the face of the solid NIA homework as the evidence it produced in the Thai court was noted by the judges as ‘conclusive’ of his complicity. Willy was brought to Delhi in mid-December to stand trial for negotiating the deal.



(Photo: iStock/Altered by The Quint)
(Photo: iStock/Altered by The Quint)

The NIA says Shimray had already paid an advance of $800,000 in April 2010 to a Bangkok-based company run by Willy to source rocket launchers, grenades, assault rifles and ammunition for the NSCN(IM) and its allies from a weapon supplier in mainland China.

The probe agency further says that Shimray had been frequently travelling to Beijing to seal the arms deal. A senior NIA official said the agency has got hold of emails exchanged between NSCN (IM) leaders and Willy about the proposed deal.

The NIA says it also has evidence of $700,000 paid to a Chinese firm by Willy for the deal.

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Shell Company for Arms Sale

The middleman who introduced Shimray and other NSCN(IM) leaders to Willy is now a witness in the case after turning approver. According to the NIA chargesheet, Willy put the NSCN leaders in touch with one Yuthna, a representative of Chinese firm TCL.

TCL was a go-between for Chinese defence giant Norinco, the NIA suspects. For the deal, Shimray had paid $100,000 to Willy in May, 2009.

Later more funds were sent to TCL through Willy. The NIA has electronic receipt of the payment. Shimray also received $800,000 in Bangkok from the NSCN(IM) , out of which $700,000 was paid to TCL via Willy. Rest of the sum was paid to the Thai shipping agent Kittichai of Intermarine Shipping Company of Bangkok for transporting the weapons to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

So evidently there is a definite money trail as payment to the Chinese firm was done through normal banking channels via a leading private bank’s branch in an African country. NSCN(IM) has parked its funds in bank accounts across several African nations especially South Africa.

(The writer, a veteran BBC correspondent, is author of two highly acclaimed books on Northeast India – “Insurgent Crossfire” and “Troubled Periphery”.)

Also read 2015 a Security Breeze-Through, But Caution Light Is On For 2016

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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