BANGKOK: An alleged Laos drug lord linked to some of Thailand’s rich and famous denied being a major player in the regional narcotics trade when he appeared in a Bangkok court on Tuesday. Xaysana Keopimpha, 42, was nabbed by Thai police on his way through Bangkok’s main airport in January, shining a rare spotlight on communist Laos’ shadowy role in the Southeast Asian pill trade. Narcotics cops alleged he was an “international drug kingpin” and trumpeted his capture in a part of the world where major cartel figures are not big names in criminal folklore and are rarely caught. The heavy-set Xaysana faces a string of charges including drug smuggling and possession – mainly of methamphetamine, which is known in Thai as “yaba” or crazy medicine for its effect on addicts. “He denies all the charges,” said his lawyer Vorakon Phongtanakul, adding his client had also backtracked on a confession he allegedly signed in police custody. “He didn’t understand Thai laws and officials told him he could change his plea at court,” Vorakon said. Under Thai law the maximum penalty for drug smuggling is death though the country has not executed anyone for years. Xaysana’s arrest drew widespread coverage in Thailand after police said a string of celebrities, including a famous soap opera star, and wealthy individuals were linked to his smuggling network.