x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

'I want to tell my side of story'

A British man arrested in Thailand and facing extradition to the UAE on embezzlement charges claims he is innocent.

Michael Bryan Smith, in handcuffs in Bangkok, faces extradition to the UAE.
Michael Bryan Smith, in handcuffs in Bangkok, faces extradition to the UAE.

BANGKOK // A British man arrested in Thailand and facing extradition to the UAE on embezzlement charges claims he is innocent. Michael Bryan Smith, 43, is being held in Bangkok's Klong Prem prison on the outskirts of the capital. He is likely to be returned to the UAE to face charges of forgery, betrayal of trust and the illegal possession of public funds. He is alleged to have stolen US$2 million (Dh7.3m) from the Dubai-based property company where he worked.

"He's innocent," his wife, Laddawan Smith, said in the visitors' waiting room of the prison after seeing her husband. "I cannot believe it. He's a good man. He's not a cheater; he's an honest man." "I want a chance to tell my side of the story," Mr Smith said in an interview with The National. Mr Smith is accused of transferring workers' salaries into his own account while working as a personnel manager between March and May of last year. The Dubai property company, Limitless, yesterday confirmed Mr Smith was previously employed by the company.

"We have been notified of Mr Smith's arrest and are currently extending our full co-operation to the concerned authorities," a company spokesman said, declining to comment further. Limitless is a business unit of Dubai World. The Smiths were reluctant to talk about the details of the case based on advice from his lawyer, but Mrs Smith said: "He never did anyone any harm. "If he had lots of money, I would know about it. He hasn't.

"I was shocked when Michael rang me from the police station [last Wednesday] and told me he'd been arrested," added Mrs Smith, who is Thai. "It's a nightmare and I keep hoping I'm going to wake and find it was all a bad dream." Mr Smith was arrested in a bar in Nana, a red-light district of Bangkok. He appeared in court last week and was remanded into custody for 60 days pending an extradition hearing.

The UAE authorities tipped off Thai police that he would probably visit the Big Dogs bar, on the corner of Nana Plaza. Mr Smith said, however, that this was not one of the regular bars he visited, but was only walking by when he saw a friend drinking and stopped to visit. The staff at the Big Dogs bar remember the incident well. "We didn't really know what was happening," said one female bartender, whose nickname is Ying. "Suddenly we saw the police put handcuffs on him and take him away." Most of the women at the bar said they did not think he was a regular customer.

"It is one of the few nights I wasn't with him," his wife said. He had gone to a British tavern, Bully's Pub, around the corner on the main street for dinner and drinks, she said. This was where he usually hangs out, Mrs Smith added. The couple met in Thailand about six years ago after Mr Smith arrived looking for work. He was working in a hotel in Ko Samui, an island resort off the south-east coast of Thailand, and she was an employee at the local golf course.

They married in Thailand in March last year when he visited her while on holiday from Dubai. Mr Smith went to work in Dubai in Jan 2007. Before that he had a series of jobs in hotels owned by the Minor hotel group in the beach resorts of Hua Hin and Ko Samui in Thailand. He had been employed in the upmarket beach resort of Khao Lak on the west coast in Dec 2004 when the tsunami hit and washed away the hotel where he was working.

Mr Smith has been looking for work in a hotel ever since he left Dubai in the middle of last year. He has had several interviews in Thailand and has also recently been to China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam for job interviews, according to one of his friends. For now he is behind bars at Bangkok's remand prison, waiting for the next stage in the extradition process. Mrs Smith visits her husband in prison daily with snacks and food and waits for the next court hearing.

"I believe in him, and I really love him, but I'm desperate and very depressed," his wife said. "I just don't know what is going to happen." ljagan@thenational.ae