An impoverished fisherman who found a rare orange Melo pearl worth £250,000 ($343K) in Thailand has been arrested after celebrating his new fortune by allegedly throwing a meth party for his pals.
Hatchai Niyomdecha, 37, invited friends over to his home in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand, on Friday after being offered 10 million Baht (£250,000) for the rare pearl.
Police reportedly found thousands of oral methamphetamine tablets at the man’s house after being contacted by his neighbours who complained about the loud music and claimed they could smell drugs.
The Thai fisherman made headlines around the world last week after he found a rare Melo pearl – one of the most expensive in the world – while picking up oysters on the shore near his house.
While armed officers raided Niyomdecha’s property, three packages containing an unknown substance and thousands of tablets were allegedly discovered. Several meth pipes were also said to have been discovered inside the house.
The police seized the items – two boxes of the unknown substance and a box of oral methamphetamine tablets estimated to contain 16,000 pieces – which were hidden near the family’s home.
Niyomdecha denied that the boxes were his but when the police ran a forensic test on the packages – they allegedly found his fingerprint all over the boxes.
Police Colonel Chokdee Srimuang said they are investigating the fisherman over the unusual amount of drugs and also looking into the involvement of his family members who lived with him.
Niyomdecha denied the drug allegations. He was taken to the police station and held in custody while being questioned.
The 37-year-old Thai fisherman was picking up shells with his family when they stumbled upon the rare find in Nakhon Si Thammarat province on January 27.
He found a discarded buoy washed ashore with a number of shell including three snail shells stuck to it, which he brother Worachat Niyomdecha, 35, took home.
They gave the snail shells to their father, Bangmad Niyomdecha, 60, who was in the process of cleaning them when he discovered the pearl – which is about the size of a 10 pence piece.
Melo pearls are formed by sea snails known as Melo Melo and deposited inside their shells, unlike traditional pearls which are found inside oysters.
Hatchai called his wife, Worachat Niyomdecha, 35, and his two boys to inspect the beautiful 7.68-gram precious gem with him and decided to check its value the next day.
They asked about the pearl among their neighbours who flocked to their home after finding out that what they found is an extremely expensive pearl.
Hatchai, who spotted the shells, claimed he had a strange dream a few days before finding the precious gem.
He said: ‘An old man in white with a long moustache told me to come to the beach so I can receive a gift. I think he led me to finding the pearl.
‘I want to sell the pearl for the highest price. The money won’t just change my life, it will change my destiny. My whole family will have better lives.’
He believes that the old man could be a deity who wanted to help him get out of poverty as the pearl could be worth as much as 10 million Baht (£250,000).
A few days later, a wealthy businessman from another province heard about the pearl and offered to buy the pearl for one million baht (£25,000) but the family refused.
Another persistent luxury items collector increased the offer to five million baht (£122,000) but the family still declined, instead believing that they could get a much higher price for it.
A third potential buyer, this time from China, negotiated with the family to take the pearl for 10 million Baht – its expected price – but he wanted to see for himself if it was a genuine Melo.
He has been set to fly to meet the man at his house to buy the pearl this month, but Niyomdecha’s arrest may complicate the sale.
Melo pearls range from orange to tan to brown in colour – with orange being the most expensive shade.
They are usually found in South China Sea and Andaman Sea off the coast of Burma and are produced by predatory sea snails called Volutidae.
The place where the Melo pearl was found, Nakhon Si Thammarat, has a coast on the Gulf of Thailand.
Ocean currents from the South China Sea often lead there.