x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Thailand agrees to extradite Briton

A criminal court in Bangkok agrees to extradite Michael Bryan Smith to Dubai to face charges of embezzlement.

Michael Bryan Smith, right, sits in a cell at the Criminal Court in Bangkok yesterday.
Michael Bryan Smith, right, sits in a cell at the Criminal Court in Bangkok yesterday.

BANGKOK // A Thai criminal court agreed yesterday to extradite a Briton to Dubai to face charges of embezzlement, despite the UAE and Thailand not having an extradition treaty. Michael Bryan Smith, who was arrested in Bangkok in May, is accused of stealing Dh2.2 million (US$600,000) from Limitless, a unit of the government-owned Dubai World.

The ruling could have implications for the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been reported to be living in Dubai although a Justice Ministry spokesman denied this last month, and is wanted in Thailand. "Even though Thailand and the UAE do not have an extradition treaty," the judge ruled, "the UAE has expressed the willingness to treat Thailand's requests in the same way." Also yesterday, it was learned that Mr Smith is facing similar charges in the UK. An official at the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that a bench warrant was issued following his failure to appear for a hearing on six counts of obtaining property by criminal deception and one count of theft.

Mr Smith said he would appeal the ruling in Bangkok. "This is not justice," he said. "They do not want me to call any witnesses. I'm being steamrollered because the Thai government has its own vested interests." Thailand and the UAE signed a draft agreement for an extradition treaty in Dubai in January, and more talks are planned in Bangkok later this year. "A treaty is in the pipeline, but it's a long way off at the moment," said Thani Thongphakdi, a spokesman for the Thai foreign ministry. "After both sides have agreed to a single text, it has to be approved by the cabinet before it's signed by both countries."

Last month, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai prime minister, said the preparation of a treaty was not related to efforts to extradite Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in 2006 in a military coup and later sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for abuse of power. Mr Smith, 43, was arrested in Bangkok's Nana district last year, eight months after moving to Thailand with his Thai wife. UAE authorities have told Thai police that while working for Limitless in 2007 and 2008, he siphoned workers' salaries into his own company's bank account.

Mr Smith listened calmly to the ruling yesterday as his wife cried. "No matter what the court decides, I lose," Mr Smith said before the hearing. "I desperately want to clear my name, and even if I win the case here, I lose. And there is no way I will get a fair trial in Dubai." In the judgement read to the court, Mr Smith was also alleged to have failed to provide evidence to support his challenge to extradition proceedings.

"Preposterous," stormed Mr Smith as he left the court. "They wouldn't let me call witnesses so how could I?" On Monday, when his lawyer completed the defence case, the judge refused to allow Mr Smith to call the three witnesses he had listed. They were a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a representative from the Attorney General's office and a human rights lawyer familiar with the UAE.

His lawyer, Prachaya Vijitpokin, said two appeals were being pursued. "We have appealed to have the high court to allow the witnesses' testimony, and the verdict," he said. "We now have to wait for them to rule and pass the case back to the criminal court." Mr Smith has spent nine months in the high-security Klong Prem prison on the outskirts of Bangkok. His lawyer has not applied for bail as it is never given in extradition cases. He is expected to remain at the prison for some time, as the appeals process is usually lengthy.

That would likely mean he would miss his next appearance in the UK, which is scheduled for April 12 at the Teesside Crown Court in England. ljagan@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Praveen Menon