BANGKOK — A senior government official on Monday declined to address allegations that he spent four years behind bars in Australia for smuggling heroin back in the 1990s.

When questioned by reporters today, agriculture assistant minister Thammanat Prompao said he has no response to the claim, which was made in detail by the Australian newspapers Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“I’ve read the news, but I’d like to refrain from giving any explanation today,” Thammanat said. “And I won’t give a response, because they don’t understand the system [sic].”

Thammanat was accompanying Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on a trip to the flood-devastated northeast today.

The opposition says Thammanat must explain himself to the public.

“If I were Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, I wouldn’t have picked Thammanat as a minister in the first place,” opposition spokesman Adisorn Piangket said. “His image is not clean.”

The newspapers’ report said Thammanat, then known as Manat Bophlom, pled guilty to a court in New South Wales in 1993 to trafficking 3.2 kilograms of heroin into the country. The heroin’s street value was estimated at 4.1 million AUD.

Citing court documents, the newspapers said Thammanat was released in 1997 and deported to Thailand.

Thammanat’s past resurfaced after Prayuth named him an Agriculture and Cooperative Assistant Minister in July. The former soldier said at the time he was simply caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although Thai laws bar those convicted of narcotics offenses from serving in the cabinet, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu has suggested the ban is not applicable to politicians prosecuted by foreign courts.

Note: Some details were omitted from this article due to legal concerns. 

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