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Phuket airport plane crash wreckage still under tarpaulins by the sea in 2009

Phuket Crash Linked to African King 'Aircraft Laundering' Riddle

Friday, May 4, 2012
PHUKET: In a strange postscript to the One-Two-Go disaster on Phuket, a news report from South Africa links the presentation of a luxury jet to Swaziland's king Mswati III as a "birthday present" back to the 2007 Phuket air crash.

The article centres on whether the MacDonnell Douglas MD-87 presented to the Swazi ruler had been refitted for a modest $2 million or an extravagant $20 million.

The Mail and Guardian online suggests that the king's alleged 44th birthday present appears to have been subjected to ''aircraft laundering.''

Tracing back the aircraft's history, the article says the Swazi king's VIP-outfitted ''appears to have been sold to the Grandmax Group, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands and owned and controlled by Nina Tantiprasongchai.

''Nina is the wife of Udom Tantiprasongchai, who runs Thailand's low-cost Orient Thai airline.''

Orient Thai was the parent company for One-Two-Go.

The article says that online registration records show that in early December 2007 the aircraft apparently fated for the Swazi king was ferried from Tokyo to Hong Kong and Bangkok.

However, it's not possible that the MD-87 intended for Swaziland is a refit of the plane that crashed on Phuket on September 16, 2007, killing 90 and injuring 40.

The wreckage of that plane stayed under a tarpaulin in public view at Phuket International Airport for more than two years before being sold for scrap.

Mystery continues to surround who actually donated the luxury aircraft to the Swazi king, who rules one of Africa's poorest countries.

According to the media reports, the king will be using the aircraft for private transportation of his 13 wives and family. Forbes ranks the Swazi king as the 15th richest king in the world.

According to the CIA World Factbook, his people are not so well-off. Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy in the world, with an average life expectancy of only 31.88 years.

Sixty percent of the people are said to subsist on less than $1.25 a day.

Whle there are few similarities between landlocked Swaziland and tropical island paradise Phuket, airport construction - or reconstruction in the case of Phuket- appears to be a problem both share.

A decade after construction began, Swaziland's Sikhuphe International Airport is yet to open for business.

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