UK academic held over nine year old article

Dr Ellis sent the BBC a picture of himself in detention at the airport

A UK academic has spent the last four days in detention at an airport in Thailand over a dispute arising from a UN report he wrote nine years ago. Agricultural consultant Wyn Ellis was stopped at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport and told he had been reported as a threat to national security. It is a twist in an extraordinary saga which shows problems over protecting intellectual property in Thailand. It also highlights the dangers of exposing well-connected Thai officials.

Dr Ellis, who has been working with the UN on sustainable rice production, was stopped at immigration at the airport. In 2008, Dr Ellis, who is originally from Swansea, spotted a dissertation on promoting organic agricultural products, in particular asparagus, that seemed familiar. On reading it, he realised a lot of it had been copied from a report on a year-long study he had conducted for Thailand’s International Trade Centre two years earlier. On further investigation he realised that nearly all of the dissertation had been copied from other sources; only in 14 pages out of 161, he says, could he not find clear evidence of plagiarism.

The dissertation had been submitted by Supachai Lorlowhakarn - director of Thailand’s National Innovation Agency (NIA), an organisation that promises to promote and protect intellectual property - for his PhD at Thailand’s elite Chulalongkorn University. Dr Ellis filed a complaint, accusing Mr Supachai of stealing intellectual property, and asking the university to reject the dissertation. Nothing happened, and Mr Supachai was allowed to graduate. But a great deal happened to Dr Ellis.