Officials from 13 Thai govt agencies investigated over bomb-detector fraud

Members of a Thai bomb squad unit inspect the wreckage of a vehicle caused from bomb attacks by militants in Yala province

The GT200 "bomb detector" is back under the media spotlight after a British court found wealthy businessman Jim McCormick guilty of three charges of multimillion-pound fraud in relation to three types of fake bomb detectors he sold to state security agencies across the world - including Thailand.

The McCormick trial, which will conclude today, has stirred emotions around the globe because the 57-year-old businessman put thousands of lives in danger including those of people in Niger, Syria, Mexico, Iraq, Kenya, at the Hong Kong prison service, in the Egyptian army, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, which bought useless bomb detectors from his firms.

In Thailand, the fascination with the GT200 by state security agencies started in 2004 when the Thai Air Force used the device to "detect" suspected items at Bor Thong Airport in Pattani.

The GT200 made its "debut" when all military forces met to showcase their warfare capabilities not long after the airport check.

The Army, which was assigned to dispose of bombs in the three southern border provinces when the insurgency initially gripped the deep south, was in dire need of bomb detectors that could detect explosives from a far range. After learning that the Air Force's Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit possessed the GT200 detector, initially known as "The Mo", the Army tested the device and bought 541 GT200s in 2008-09 - the largest lot ever bought by Thai security agencies.

Calls for checks on the efficiency of the GT200 started in social networks like pantip.com. Blogger Geneticist from Wah Ko blog room inspired academics to team up and call for an investigation into the bomb detector.

On February 2, 2010, the Abhisit Cabinet appointed a committee to test the efficiency of the GT200. It revealed that out of 20 times, the device correctly detected a C4 bomb four times.

The Department of Special Investigation has looked into the scandal, summoning more than 90 witnesses from 13 Thai agencies that bought the GT200 bomb detector and Alpha 6 narcotics detector. The agency is likely to press charges against Jackson Electronics (Thailand) Co Ltd and ASLM Trading Co Ltd, two trading companies that represented McCormick's company.

The DSI also found that some officials from the 13 state agencies could be held accountable for procurement of the devices.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) last July accepted the GT200 case filed by the DSI and appointed a panel to probe the irregularities.

Officials from some agencies such as the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) have been summoned by the NACC to acknowledge charges related to procurement of overpriced equipment. The NACC and DSI may press charges against Level 8-9 officials at other agencies for alleged abuse of authority, for not complying with regulations in state bidding procedures.

In the UK, McCormick pleaded innocent, claiming that his devices "bypass all concealment methods" and find targets through walls, underwater and up to 30 feet (9 metres) underground. But the prosecution said the machines lacked "any grounding in science" and offered no advantage over "random chance".

McCormick could face up to eight years in jail when the court hands down its verdict tomorrow. He has been granted bail to allow him to get his affairs in order.

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