Prominent Extradition Cases in Thailand – Snaring Minor Offenders to Big-Time Crooks
Many people are surprised to learn that the long arm of the law can extend well beyond national boundaries, with people able to be extradited to face criminal charges and serve sentences for even relatively minor offenses, or for breaking laws in another country without ever having visited it.
With the consensus in international law being that a state does not have any obligation to surrender an alleged criminal to a foreign state – a principle of sovereignty being that every state has legal authority over the people within its borders – the way around this has been by international treaty.1
While the majority of nations around the world have signed bilateral extradition treaties with several nations, no single nation has an extradition treaty with every other.
As of March 30, 2010, Thailand, for example, had extradition treaties with 14 countries: the USA-Thailand Extradition Treaty , the Thailand-UK Extradition Treaty, an extradition treaty with Canada, the China-Thailand Extradition Treaty, Belgium-Thailand Extradition Treaty, the Philippines-Thailand Extradition Treaty, the Thai – Indonesia Extradition Treaty, the Thai-Laos Extradition Treaty, the Thai-Cambodia Extradition Treaty, the Thailand-Malaysia Extradition Treaty, the Thai-South Korea Extradition Treaty, the Bangladesh-Thailand Extradition Treaty, the extradition treaty with Fiji, and Thailand’s agreement with Australia base on an original extradition treaty signed between Thailand and Britain in the 1900s.2
As each treaty is an individual document between two sovereign nations, the terms of the treaty are resolved on an individual basis, often requiring lengthy negotiations.
Common reasons for extradition being refused include:
(a) A failure to satisfy dual criminality – generally the act for which extradition is sought must constitute a crime punishable by some minimum penalty in both the requesting and the requested parties countries.
(b) Politics – most countries refuse to extradite people accused of political crimes.
(c) Capital punishment – some countries refuse extradition on grounds that the accused, if extradited, may receive capital punishment or face torture, with some going as far as to cover all punishments that they themselves would not administer.
Canada, Macao, Mexico, and most European nations are just some that will not extradite an accused if the death penalty may be imposed, unless they are first assured that it will not be passed or carried out.
(d) Jurisdiction – If the accused is a nation’s own citizen extradition can be refused to a requesting nation by that country claiming jurisdiction.
(e) Citizenship – some nations – France, Germany, Russian Federation, Austria, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Japan – refuse to extradite their own citizens, holding trials for the person themselves.3
The Extradition of Viktor Bout
The highly publicized and drawn-out proceedings leading to the extradition of alleged international arms dealer Viktor Bout by US authorities in August last year served to not only highlight the long reach of a country’s legal system, but also that while extradition can be sought by another country, the return of an individual is not always guaranteed.
The basis of the extradition request for Mr. Bout involved a sting operation led by undercover US Drug Enforcement Administration (USDEA) agents masquerading as cadre of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police (RTPCSD), Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael J Garcia. On March 6, 2008, Viktor Bout offered to supply weapons to the US DEA agents posing as Farc rebels. Farc is an organization the United States Secretary of State has declared to be a terrorist organization.
At almost the same time as the sting operation was going down in Bangkok, Mr. Garcia’s office circulated a worldwide “diffusion” (notice that an arrest warrant has been issued) to all 186 Interpol member countries, following it up with the issue of an Interpol Red Notice, or international wanted persons notice.4
The Interpol Red Notice, issued by Interpol’s General Secretariat in Lyon, France, is viewed by many Interpol member countries as the basis – though is not mandatory – for the provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to their extradition. In 2009 Interpol issued 5,020 Red Notices, with the overriding factor being that the application met all of the agencies conditions.
One reason Interpol will not issue a Red Notice when requested to is if it breaches Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution, which “forbids the Organization from undertaking any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious, or racial character”.5
The first extradition trial for Mr. Bout began in September 2008, with a ruling on August 11, 2009 by Judge Jittakorn Wattanasi, denying the application on the grounds that the case against Mr. Bout was a political one, and not applicable – a failure under item (b) above.
Though not widely highlighted in many media reports, the accompanying comments by the presiding judge, that, “the US charges are not applicable under Thai law” and “Thailand does not recognize the Farc as a terrorist group” highlight a second and more significant failure in the US extradition application.6
That Thailand did not recognize the Farc as a terrorist organization highlights not only the risk extradition requests can run into, but also a lack of foresight by US authorities in first checking the terms of its agreement with Thailand.
Though the Farc were a declared terrorist organization in the US, they were not so regarded by the Thailand government, therefore failing to meet item (a) above, giving a clear indication that such a clause exists in the extradition agreement between the two countries.
The verdict sent diplomats and law enforcement officials into a tail spin, with the US Embassy in Bangkok even suggesting that the President of the Unites States should telephone Thailand Prime Abhisit Vejjajiva and discuss the matter.7
A subsequent appeal by the Thailand Government saw the lower court ruling overturned and extradition ordered, though a second “back up” set of charges of money laundering and fraud filed by the US Government almost derailed proceedings for a second time when Mr. Bout appealed the extradition order, claiming he couldn’t be extradited on the first set of charges while additional charges were pending.
With a tight time period set before the extradition order would expire, Mr Bout was brought back before a Thai court where the second set of charges were formally dismissed, allowing him to be handed over to waiting USDEA officers and extradited to the US before the time period defined in the extradition order expired.
While the case of Viktor Bout was an extraordinary one, the level of priority the US placed on apprehending him was second only to that for Muslim cleric and Al-Qaeda head Osama Bin Laden. The case adequately demonstrates how complicated international extraditions can be.
Thai Authorities are Increasingly Collaborating with Foreign Law Enforcement Agencies
For many years Thailand’s warm climate, relatively low cost of living and under resourced law enforcement agencies meant many criminals on the run were able to fly under the radar, avoiding detection, apprehension and return to countries they were wanted in.
In recent years the ability to disappear in Thailand has become considerably more difficult, with foreign governments and agencies basing law enforcement agents in country, often in a skills exchange program with the RTP or at the International Law Enforcement Academy, Bangkok (ILEA- Bangkok).
Though international law enforcement and intelligence agencies will not reveal the number of agents present in Thailand, a reliable source with close contacts in the Thailand intelligence community claims there are about 40 full-time USDEA agents based in Bangkok, some 20 FBI agents and “about 15 CIA operatives with a massive embedded network, including close links to very senior Thai military officers”.
Most other nations, including the UK, Germany, France and Israel also have law enforcement and intelligence officers based in Thailand, though no approximations of the numbers is available.
The Bout case was not the first where USDEA officials and RTP have cooperated in the arrest and extradition of suspects and fugitives in Thailand and there are numerous examples of the willingness of Thai authorities to work with law enforcement officials from other countries to rid the kingdom of undesirable foreigners.
Trade in Steroids and Money Laundering: The Extradition of Richard Crawley and Ashley Vincent Livingston
In a less publicized case than that involving Mr. Bout, two British nationals, Edwin Richard Crawley and Ashley Vincent Livingston (aka Redicat), were detained by the RTP working with the USDEA in March 2008 on charges of trading in anabolic steroids and money laundering.
It was alleged Mr. Crawley and Livingston ordered the steroids from China, via the internet, and then on-sold them to customers in the USA and Europe. It was further alleged that the pair had built a considerable fortune as a result of their activities, acquiring Bt20 million (about $US631,000 at 2008 exchange rates) in assets in the Thailand eastern seaboard city of Pattaya between 1999 and their arrest in 2008.
The two were detained by Thai police acting in accordance with a request made by the USDEA under a Mutual Legal and Assistance Treaty (MLAT) between the United States and Thailand.8
MLATs include the power to summon witnesses, to compel the production of documents and other real evidence, to issue search warrants, and to serve process.
Generally, the remedies offered under an MLAT are only available to the prosecutors, with the defense having to proceed with the methods of obtaining evidence in criminal matters under the laws of the host country, which usually involve letters rogatory – a formal request from a court to a foreign court for some type of judicial assistance, such as service of process and taking of evidence.9
Livingston and Mr. Crawley were initially charged by Thai authorities with illegally importing and selling medicines, avoiding excise duty, and transporting forbidden substances out of the kingdom, while contemporaneously, the US sought their extradition.
It should be noted that in Thailand anabolic steroids are covered by the food and drug laws, with the maximum penalty for violation being a jail sentence, as opposed to a maximum penalty under the Narcotics Act of death, while in the US anabolic steroids have been classified as a felony drug offense in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), since February 27, 1991.10
Both men subsequently appeared before a Thai court and were ordered to be extradited to the US in late 2009, though Mr. Crawley appealed the extradition order, before rescinding his objection during an Appeals Court hearing, in December, 2010. 11
Following his appearance in a US Court in May 2010, a plea bargain saw Livingston sentenced to 24-months in prison on one count of conspiracy to distribute steroids and one count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering.12
He subsequently claimed to have been “tortured” during his eight-months waiting deportation in Thailand, though the RTP say he cooperated fully, providing them with extensive information about his customers and business associates, resulting in a number of follow-up raids and arrests by the RTP.13
It should be noted that because Mr. Crawley and Livingston were initially charged with having committed offences in Thailand and were detained on those charges while the extradition application by the US government ran a parallel course, the RTP was perfectly within its rights to question the two regarding their activities in the kingdom.
Thailand’s Transnational Crime Data Center Expands
The opening of Thailand’s second Transnational Crime Data Center (TNCDC) at the Jomtien office of the Chonburi Immigration Bureau late last year means that people wanted for offences in other countries are increasingly likely to be apprehended and extradited if they choose to hide-out in Pattaya.
The TNCDC’s “Polis” computer system matches data, including photos, descriptions, known associates and habits, of people for who arrest warrants have been issued by foreign countries, with data being fed into its computer system by foreign law enforcement agencies, Bangkok based embassies and Thai courts.
The sophisticated Polis system integrates with data collected on the “IM” system, used by Thailand immigration for data collection, visa extensions, 24-hour accommodation reporting, and arrest warrants, as well as the “IMM” system used for monitoring people blacklisted from entry, arrival and departure dates, and a globally-linked passport checking facility.
At its official opening last December, Police General Wuthi Puawes, the head of the Thailand immigration police and the security advisor, Special Affairs Department of the RTP, said Chonburi Immigration Bureau was chosen for the center because “it is one of the busiest in the country”, not because of any perception there are more wanted foreigners in Pattaya than anywhere else.14
The system now holds details on more than 10,000 people wanted for crimes such as pedophilia, extortion, investment fraud, and money laundering and since the TNCDC computer system was installed last May it has been responsible for identifying dozens of wanted people, leading to their arrest, detention and extradition, with several others detained over international warrants still before the courts where they are challenging the validity of the extradition proceedings.
The Arrest of George Georgiou
One such case is that of suspected jewel thief George Georgiou, arrested in Pattaya in October 2010, accused of the smash-and-grab theft of a $1 million ring from an upscale jewelry store in Melbourne, Australia.
Mr. Georgiou protested his innocence and confidence in being found innocent at trial, only to set out and try to delay his extradition to Australia, boasting he could delay the extradition for a year, arguing the extradition request was flawed due to the lack of an Extradition Treaty between Australia and Thailand.15
Australia relies on an extradition treaty signed between Thailand and Britain back in the early 1900s, which it uses as the governing legal framework for extradition between it and Thailand.16
Though extraditions between the two countries have occurred in the past, the fact that the inherited British-Thailand extradition treaty gives either country an absolute discretion to refuse extradition of nationals, is a clause currently being put to the test in the Thai courts.
Other Recent Cases of Extradition or Deportation
In September and October last year Thai police arrested two Thai men aged 27 and 35, accused of the May 2009 murder of Luke Mitchell in Melbourne, Australia, based on an arrest warrant issued by the Victoria Police, extradition requested under the inherited England-Thailand extradition treaty.
The two accused appeared in court in early January 2011 and are due to appear in a Bangkok Court again in May, while Mr. Georgiou has told the Bangkok court hearing his extradition request that he no longer wishes to challenge the application.
More recently Chonburi immigration arrested 73-year-old convicted British pedophile, Roderick William Robinson, wanted in the UK after jumping bail on 1998 child molestation charges involving a 13-year-old girl.17
Though media reports make it unclear whether arrest warrants had been issued for Robinson or not, Chonburi immigration circumvented any prolonged extradition proceedings by using provisions of a relatively new amendment to the Immigration Act of Thailand B.E. 2522 (1979), granting immigration special powers to revoke a visa for a person residing in the kingdom.
Section 7 of the Immigration act states that the visa for a person residing in the kingdom can be revoked for: “Having behavior which would indicated possible danger to the public or likelihood of being a nuisance or constituting any violence to the peace or safety of the public or to the security of the public or to the security of the nation, or being under warrant of arrest by competent officials of foreign governments.”18
Robinson had previously been extradited from Portugal to Australia to face similar charges to those in England, but jumped bail in Australia and relocated to Thailand while awaiting an appellant court verdict. In addition he was wanted in New Zealand for similar offenses there.
While all that is known about the mechanism that triggered the arrest and cancelation of Robinson’s visa is that England’s Serious Organised Crime Agency(SOCA) tipped off Chonburi immigration to his presence and address in Thailand, any formal extradition proceedings could have become prolonged and complicated, with up to three countries potentially vying for Robinson’s return. Thailand Immigration took the extradition decision out of the hands of the court and were able to instigate deportation proceedings against Robinson, following the standard practice of sending Robinson back to his country of citizenship.19
Clarification between Extradition and Deportation
While some local newspapers referred to Robinson’s return to England as an extradition, Joe Leeds, manager of Chaninat and Leeds law firm in Bangkok said this is not correct as his return was not made under the terms of the Extradition Act and there are significant differences in the process.
“When extraditions occur the process is handled according to the Extradition
Act by the Office of the Attorney General as the result of a foreign government requesting the arrest and detention of an individual pending a hearing on the charges lodged by the foreign government.
If successful, custody of the defendant is transferred from the Thai authorities to that of the foreign country requesting extradition and law enforcement agents from that government will physically be handed the person to remove from Thailand.
In a deportation the Immigration Bureau initiates the process and sends the defendant back to their home country.
Extraditions are initiated by a foreign government, which may or may not be the defendant’s country of citizenship, and the process is handled pursuant to a different set of laws than Immigration”, Mr. Leeds said, adding that , “ordinarily, deportation would be a faster process than an extradition request.”
Whether an individual is legally extradited or deported, Thailand can likely expect to see more of these cases move through the courts as Thai officials continue to strengthen ties and crime-fighting collaborations with foreign law enforcement entities.
13. http://forum.lef.org/default.aspx?f=36&m=58666, http://sorebuttcheeks.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/advanced-stealth-steroids-lab-busted-in-bangkok-thailand/, http://www.ironmagazine.com/blog/2010/bangkok-post-newspaper-warns-of-steroids-crackdown-in-thailand/
17. http://www.pattayamail.com/news/fugitive-pedophile-arrested-in-pattaya-1649, http://www.pattayaone.net/pattaya-news/20453/pattaya-immigration-issue-order-to-revoke-visa-of-british-national/