Nick, Khun Lee, Eddy and Tom
I was very occupied the next few days with my other operation in Africa. I heard from Jeffrey that nothing happened on the 30th of November, there were mis-communications between Khun Lee and Ton, Tom’s agent. Tom called Jeffrey in his room at the hotel the night of the 30th, scaring the heck out him, which he later wrote up for the NYT. Jeffrey left Bangkok on the 1st.
On 1st December I WhatsApped Freeland: “…give me an update.” They replied, “…again it was a no-show, we will need to wait and try again tomorrow.”
Since nothing seemed to be happening, I emailed Freeland on 2nd December:
“Hi R. and [Khun Lee],
I was thinking, what if I started communicating with Tom again directly? I can say I’m back in Bangkok and very keen to receive the orangs and pay the money and be done with it. What did you say to explain my absence?
I think I could sign back onto WhatsApp with my former number if you stop using it. I will have to sign on again and they will send a 6-digit code to the number, which you will receive. Then you will have to pass it on to me so I can verify.
Brief me on what has been said, and send me some screen grabs. We can say that I’m going to meet them with Mr. Lee to do the exchange.
Back then, a WhatsApp account was tied to a device, not to a SIM card. So even if the SIM card of the number the WhatsApp account was set up with was not in one’s phone, you could still operate it as long as you inserted the verification code. Since then, WhatsApp has done an update that allows it to detect the SIM card so the account will only operate with the device and SIM card together.
R. of Freeland replied immediately:
“Just to update you for yesterday, Ton lied to us and said he was delivering the kids in a black Toyota, this story later changed to ‘they will be delivered by taxi’. We waited until about 7:30, our driver was then asked to travel to Chanthaburi and would be paid 20,000 THB to deliver the Orangs. At this point we refused to proceed and called it a day.
Both [Khun Lee] and I agree that your plan would be a good idea. Please call me at your earliest convenience and we can do this while we are all together so I can pass you the 6-digit code.”
Chanthaburi? That was like a 5-hour drive southeast from Bangkok to a town only 40 km from the Cambodia border. It didn’t make any sense.
I called them and got the WhatsApp account using my Thai mobile phone number set up on my phone. I saw that Tom had sent me a message saying “Hello” at 18:35 on 29th November and another message early the morning of 30th November saying:
“Use this code to verify my WhatsApp messages and calls to you are end-to-end encrypted:
[three lines of numbered code]
No one had replied to either of Tom’s messages. Khun Lee had the SIM card, had he even put it in a phone to read Tom’s messages? That’s why Tom called Jeffrey’s hotel room the night of the 30th, no one was answering my number.
I discovered that Exoticpet88 was back online. This photo of the kids was posted 1st December:
These two were posted 3rd December:
This photo was posted on @exoticpetworld on 1st December:
Because Nick had disappeared, Tom was advertising the kids for sale. It would be disaster if someone else bought them.
On 2nd December I WhatsApped R. at Freeland: “Exoticpet88 is back and showing the kids.”
No response, so on 4th December I emailed R.:
“Strangely, the Instagram account exoticpet88 (https://www.instagram.com/exoticpet88/) is back online. The account had no posts from 27 April, then was kicked off of Instagram in around October, I don’t know how they got back on. They are showing the kids from 1st December. The account they replaced it with is still functioning (https://www.instagram.com/exoticpetworld/) and also showing the kids.
I hope Khun [Lee] was serious about refunding me the THB 100,000. Are you going to try and arrest the bank account holder for fraud?”
On a whim, I thought I would try contacting Tom using my +27 South Africa WhatsApp, which I had on another mobile phone:
Tom never replied to the old David WhatsApp number.
Still no reply from R., but on 6th December I was copied an email from the head of Freeland to Jeffrey, offering to collaborate on future sting operations to generate stories. One line caught my eye: “You saw [Lee] and [E.] in action during the on-the-job training support.” So Inspector X was being trained, he wasn’t an experienced police operative. I thought he looked young. The head of Freeland concluded: “Meanwhile, believe it or not, Op Kid continues in SE Asia. Hopefully more to come, but lets see.” He didn’t sound overly optimistic.
I received nothing more until 8th December, when R. sent a WhatsApp for me to call. I spoke with R. and with Khun Lee. I tried to formulate a plan of how Khun Lee could act as my agent in Bangkok to conclude the deal with Tom in my absence, me pretending to be in Phuket. I would contact Tom with my usual WhatsApp, saying that after no one had delivered the kids as agreed, I went back to Phuket. I would say I left the $17,150 with Khun Lee to pay for the kids. So if Tom was still in Bangkok, I would authorize Khun Lee to meet with Tom, make sure the kids were in good health, and give him the cash and take the kids. I would fly up to Bangkok and bring the kids back to Phuket.
Talking to Khun Lee about setting up how the sting would go was like an old Abbott and Costello skit, “who’s on first?”, except there was no humor in it. It was almost as if he didn’t want a concrete plan of who would do what, where and when. The call concluded with no clear understanding of what the next steps would be.
I contacted Tom on 15th December:
Nick: Lee is an idiot I don’t know what is wrong with him. I am trying to get my money back from him. When you didn’t show up Sunday or Monday 2 weeks ago I left money with him. I got fed up and left Tuesday. Lee has over $17,000 of my money. Why didn’t you meet to give kids and take money? I only get nonsense answers from Lee
Tom only replied with a photo:
Nick: Ohhh they look adorable! Can I send someone to see them? If everything looks good I’ll fly up and we’ll finish it
Tom: Give me the number of your person .
Nick: Let me find someone I have to ask them. Do they have to go very far from Bangkok?
Tom: Just a bit . but we can easily work it out to see your kids .
Tom: Did you get your money back , Sir ?
Tom: Mr. Lee , Sir . your 17,000 $ .
Nick: Lee said he would give my money when I came up again
[I didn’t want Khun Lee to run the op, so contacted Noi to see if she was in Bangkok. She wasn’t, she had left the country for something. But she sent me these screenshots from after the blown meeting of 1st or 2nd December, it wasn’t clear from R.’s communications which day the attempted meet took place:
This was the result of Khun Lee’s great management skills. I sent these screenshots to R. and said someone else should manage the sting meet for Freeland. R. said ‘Eddy’ would do it, one of their Thai operatives.
[Two days later]
Tom: Any update yet , Sir ? Holidays are approaching and I think we should plan as soon as we can .
Nick: I finally found someone who said they can contact you tomorrow. I don’t know that many people in Bangkok I had to ask Noi. She refused but said she knew someone who had time
Tom: So he will come to see the kids and take it ?
Tom: In fact I can send down the kids for you too but we have to manage how I should get paid and safe for both of us .
Nick: Noi said this guy can go look to see if kids are healthy and if they are I’ll come to pay and take them. His number is +66 64 275 xxxx
[This was Eddy’s number]
Tom: Let me forward the number now .
Tom: Noi told me you were inspired to get otans babies because you saw them in phuket zoo , rite ?
Nick: Yes. I was there with Jeffrey and they looked so cute
Tom: Great .
Tom: They got two babies , rite ?
Nick: Yes the keeper told me they got them from a zoo in Bangkok
Tom: But kept in the zoo is not good for them .
[This was rich coming from an ape slaver.]
Nick: I think they were born in a zoo so what to do?
Tom: If they were captive born then should be OK . safari world in Bangkok got lots of jubenile otans when I was there
Tom: And at least ten little babies they got .
Tom: They breed them quite successful .
[More useful intel on Tom, he had inside info at Bangkok Safari World]
Tom: A lots of them .
Tom: My agent talked to Eddy today .
Tom: Eddy will go and meet your kids in the next couple of days .
Nick: I should have asked if they wanted to sell. Can they sell to individuals? Is eddy noi’s friend?
Tom: Eddy is nois contact .
Nick: Ok fine I hope he goes soon
[I was trying to distance myself from Eddy, in case Tom asked me any questions about who he was. If asked, my story was that Noi just gave me the phone number with no name.]
Tom: They can’t sell to private person .
Nick: What I thought
Tom: In fact Eddy could take back the kids for you if you want .
Tom: He can go inspect , inform you and take it back if you want .
Nick: Lee would have to give him the money. Let me think about it and find out from Noi more about who eddy is
Tom: Ok , Sir .
Tom: Have you spoken to Noi about Eddy ?
Tom: My guy in bkk is on stand by for you
Nick: She hasn’t answered my call maybe she’s busy. I sent her message to call me
Nick: Noi called me and said Eddy is very trustworthy. He will go look at the kids and if they are in good health he will let me know and I will tell Lee to deposit the money. Should it go into the same account as before?
Tom: Yes , Sir .
Tom: I will tell my local guy to set up meeting with Eddy , Sir .
[I was in communications with R. and another Freeland staff member coordinating the meet between Eddy and Tom’s agent. We were all on the same page. It was disappointing that Tom would not be there for the sting, but hopefully his agent would be able to spill the beans on the network and the true identities of Tom and others.]
[Next day, 21 December 2016]
Nick: Hello Tom. Eddy is not answering his phone. Did he pick up the kids?
Tom: My guy is waiting for him since one hour .
Tom: He said he is on the sky train
Nick: Ok I’ll try to be patient
Tom: Eddy called you back yet ?
[Tom’s guy never took the kids to a vet. The deal was supposed to be a handover of the kids to Eddy, Eddy would inform Lee, and Lee would deposit the final payment. I received a call from Freeland that the courier had been arrested and the kids seized by the police. I later discovered that the sting had been held in a mall parking garage. Why? What happened to the plan to make the arrest in the vet’s office? I was never to receive an answer to my question.]
Nick: Noi told me kids were seized. What do l do?
On 25th December I sent a last message:
Nick: Merry Christmas Tom
The +855 81 number went dead, never to return to service, and the Exoticpet88 and Exoticpetworld IG accounts disappeared from the Internet.
There was considerable media coverage of the sting (selected):
AP on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCHe8zYIDsE
baby-orangutans/vp-BBxsilS / https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/thai-police-rescue-two-baby-orangutans/vp-BBxsilS
Video of Bangkok trafficker and orangs https://www.facebook.com/edwin.wiek/videos/10153985145382443/
Freeland sent me some photos of the bust.
The kids were taken to a government wildlife holding facility outside of Bangkok.
I tried for weeks to get news from Freeland of what was happening with the case, but no one would give me a straight answer, just saying it was in progress. I didn’t even know if anyone had been arrested or if a prosecution was planned. I thought at least Jirapat, the person in whose bank account I had made the deposit, could be prosecuted. I only found out from tweets on Edwin Wiek’s Twitter account later what happened.
Nothing. No arrests, no prosecutions, no investigation. The only good outcome, other than preventing the trafficking of the kids, was Jeffrey’s New York Times article, which came out almost a year after the sting:
End of Part III.