UK GT200 distributor found guilty of fraud – but what about Thailand?

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 29, 2013

A British businessman has been convicted for selling the bogus GT200 bomb detector. Gary Bolton, the former director of Global Technology Ltd, was found guilty of fraud by the UK’s Central Criminal Court on two counts on Friday.

The prosecution said he sold them for up to £10,000 [$15,300] each, claiming they could detect explosives. The trial heard the company had a £3m [$4,6m] annual turnover selling the homemade devices. (…)

Richard Whittam QC, prosecuting, told the court that Bolton knew the devices – which were also alleged to be able to detect drugs, tobacco, ivory and cash – did not work but supplied them anyway to be sold to overseas businesses.

Gary Bolton guilty of selling fake bomb detectors“, BBC News, July 26, 2013

Earlier this year in May, the same court sentenced James McCormick to 10 years imprisonment for selling the similar, non-functioning ADE-651 device mostly to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both the ADE-651 and the GT200 were advertised to detect explosive materials and other chemicals by inserting the appropriate “sensor cards” into the device’s plastic grip and erecting a swiveling antenna mounted on it to search for the desired substance. The manufacturers claimed that the devices did not need any batteries but only the user’s static electricity. Both devices have been found to be utterly ineffective.

In 2010 BBC Newsnight exposed the devices to be nothing but an empty plastic shell with an attached dowsing rod and plastic cards with “nothing to program on” that were sold to dozens of countries. Upon these revelations, the United Kingdom banned the export of all such devices.

Also on the effectiveness of the device:

Further stringent “double-blind” tests carried out on the GT200 by Dr Michael Sutherland of the University of Cambridge found that it worked successfully twice in 24 tests searching for TNT, which was less than the probability of finding the explosives at random.

Gary Bolton guilty of selling fake bomb detectors“, BBC News, July 26, 2013

Thailand was arguably the biggest customer and procured 818 GT200 devices for the Thai military and at least 13 other government agencies since 2004, paying  900,000-1.2 million Baht (US$27,000-36,000) per unit – a reported total of about  8-900 million Baht (US$21 million). Among the customers was reportedly the post-coup military junta, which ordered the devices in 2006. A majority of 535 bomb detectors was used by the army in the South of Thailand to tackle the ongoing separatist insurgency, where attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are a common occurrence.

With the emergence of the BBC report in 2010, the government of then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered tests on the GT200’s effectiveness – with unsurprising, but still shocking results:

The government will not buy any more GT200 substance detectors after test results showed the device performs worse than a roll of the dice. (…)

The tests consisted of 20 trials in which explosives were placed in one of four boxes. The device succeeded in recording just four correct readings.

“Abhisit scraps GT200 orders”, Bangkok Post, February 17, 2010

Just to clarify the results: flipping a coin would be more accurate than using the GT200. It is difficult to assess how many people fell victim to the bogus GT200, but numerous incidents in the past indicate that the device either failed to detect actual explosives (with deathly consequences) or gave false positives. Furthermore, a false positive also paved way for potentially false arrests:

Soldiers have used the devices during security sweeps of ethnic Malay Muslim communities or at security checkpoints, contending that the movement of a rotating antenna on the devices can find traces of explosives or gunpowder on suspects’ bodies. Civil rights lawyers in the network of the Muslim Attorney Council say that since 2007 about 10 percent of suspected insurgents have been arrested on the basis of a GT200 reading.

Officials at the Justice Ministry told Human Rights Watch that GT200 readings cannot be used as evidence in court. However, Thai military forces consider GT200 readings a valid basis for exercising arrest and detention powers under the 2005 Executive Decree on Government Administration in Emergency Situations (Emergency Decree).

Thailand: Stop Using Discredited Explosives Detector“, Human Rights Watch, February 17, 2010

The question now is, three years after the revelations of the bogus nature of the bomb sniffing device, whether or not Thai authorities are still using it? Last year at this time, we reported on army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s conflicting statements, saying it was still used by the army in the South and at the same time saying that 4th Army Region in the South is NOT using it anymore. Nevertheless, he still fexpressed his faith in the GT200, as did supreme commander Thanasak Patimaprakorn and then-defense minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, all stating it is still in use because of a lack of alternatives. However, they also said they would respect scientific evidence that prove the opposite – completely ignoring the existence of same since 2010.

And then earlier this year…

Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has requested the public to stop fueling criticisms and leave the case to be investigated by Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Thai court. He added that the army has already stopped using the devices for 2-3 years. However, he admitted that some military personnel still use them since there is no other alternative instrument.

Army chief urges the public stop criticizing GT200 fraud“, National News Bureau of Thailand, April 25, 2013

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has not made any progress since the start of their investigations last year.

With the conviction of both con-men in the UK at least some progress has been made their, whereas in Thailand this – especially on a legal and political level – still has yet to happen.

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One thought on “UK GT200 distributor found guilty of fraud – but what about Thailand?

  1. Bolton jailed for 7 years. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23768203

    See Am working on pushing for compensation claims from victims e.g. in Thailand and Mexico, to help rub it in.

    Still more to come out regarding the support he received from UK Trade and Industry, Defence Export Sales Organisation, Defence Manufacturers Association (now ADS) , Royal Engineers Export Support Team (REEST). Hopefully some heads will roll so that the lessons are well and truly learned.

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