Posted on: December 14, 2022, 10:48h. 

Last updated on: December 14, 2022, 11:34h.

In February of last year, police in Thailand arrested an internet personality and former boxer on charges of running an illegal gambling operation. Now, Siapo Po-arnon has had his day in court and the result was a sentence of 54 years in prison.

Siapo Po-arnon
Thai police escort Siapo Po-arnon to jail. The online personality received a 54-year prison sentence for allegedly organizing illegal gambling. (Image: Bangkok Post)

Siapo was arrested at his house in Bangkok as part of a series of raids. Police had been monitoring the gambling operation before dropping the net over seven locations, including his home.

Only six months earlier, Thai legislators had asked Siapo to serve as an adviser on gambling regulation. A House committee was exploring the possibility of online gambling, which is still open for discussion in the country.

From Idol to Criminal

Siapo was something of a cultural icon for a new era of Thai personalities before his world came crumbling down. At the time of his arrest, prosecutors accused him of being the mastermind behind a large illegal gambling operation that worked across the country and the region.

Twenty-one people, including Siapo, were arrested during the raids. Along with him, police also arrested his wife, his mother, a brother, and a sister-in-law. In addition to illegal gambling, they faced charges of money laundering. These five controlled the “executive group” of the organization, according to the Bangkok Post. Another group managed all of the financial transactions, while a third controlled the bank accounts that accepted online wagers.

The group allegedly moved over THB1.8 billion (US$52.09 million) before police broke it up. When they made their first appearance, Siapo and 18 others denied the accusations. That initially landed them in prison without bail. Shortly after, his brother and sister-and-law received bail before fleeing the country.

For his role as the ringleader, Siapo received a sentence of four years for the charges of illegal online gambling. To this were added 25 counts of money laundering, resulting in another 50 years. His wife received a six-month sentence on two counts of the promotion of illegal gambling.

There’s a possibility Siapo could serve just 20 years of the 54, since that’s the maximum prison sentence in Thailand for many non-violent offenders. Siapo is currently appealing the court’s decision.

Brought Down by the House

There isn’t much information regarding Siapo’s role in assisting the Thai House of Representatives with its discussion on gambling regulations. Since he was an adviser only six months prior to the arrest, there’s a strong chance that something during his work with the government triggered the investigation.

Police determined that he had been running his illegal operations since at least 2018. By the time they broke up the group, it had conducted over 575K financial transactions.

When police launched their raids on the various locations in 2021, many of the would-be accomplices scattered. Some are still at large, including Siapo’s mother and a number of citizens from Myanmar who had traveled to Thailand for the job.