Briton vows to fight extradition

A former manager at a Dubai World property company claims the UAE has produced no evidence against him.

BANGKOK // A former property manager facing charges of embezzlement in Dubai has said he is confident he can win his fight against being extradited from Thailand, where he is being held in a high-security prison.

Michael Smith, a 43-year-old Briton, has repeatedly protested his innocence since being arrested by the Thai police in Bangkok in May. He is alleged to have stolen US$600,000 (Dh2.2 million) from the property company Limitless, a unit of Dubai government-owned Dubai World, while he worked there in the first five months of 2008. "I am going to fight the case to the very end," Mr Smith said in an interview with The National from his jail cell.

He is due to appear at the Bangkok criminal court tomorrow for the next hearing of the extradition process. "I am reading a lot about extradition laws and treaties and am becoming something of an expert in these matters," said Mr Smith. "So I am bewildered as to why the Thai authorities believe I can be sent back to the UAE when there is no extraction treaty." Thailand has no extradition treaty with the UAE, but judicial officials here have requested extradition proceedings.

The Dubai authorities are seeking Mr Smith's extradition to face charges of forgery, betrayal of trust and illegal possession of stolen funds. Mr Smith has denied accusations of funnelling workers' salaries into his personal account while working as a senior personnel manager at Limitless between March and May 2008. He also denies setting up his own recruitment company to siphon off the funds. "So far, the UAE authorities have not produced any details or evidence of the crimes I am supposed to have committed," said Mr Smith.

"All the Thai authorities have is a statement from a prosecutor in Dubai to the police here - that's not evidence." Mr Smith, from London, started working in Dubai in 2007. He said he left Limitless in June 2008 because he could not accept the company's employment policies. He went to Thailand and was arrested in May last year as he left a restaurant in Bangkok's Soi Nana area with his Thai wife.

Since then, he has been held in Klong Prem Central Prison, which houses up to 20,000 inmates, on the outskirts of the Thai capital. He has twice been refused bail after prosecutors said he was considered a flight risk. Prosecution witnesses gave evidence at the Bangkok criminal court in November last year and the case was adjourned for Mr Smith's counsel to prepare their defence. Under international treaties, an extradition can proceed in the absence of a specific treaty only when the other side has shown willingness to reciprocate.

The UAE and Thai governments are currently negotiating an extradition treaty. A draft agreement was signed after talks in Dubai this month. The next round of talks is scheduled to take place in Bangkok next month, with the treaty likely to be signed in July. "It will not be retroactive and will not affect the case of Michael Bryan Smith," said Thailand's deputy foreign minister, Panich Vikitsreth, who is overseeing the treaty negotiations.

The existing treaties and international laws would cover that, he added. Asked to comment on Mr Smith's case, Limitless said the matter was being handled by the authorities. "Limitless extended its full co-operation to the concerned authorities following Mr Smith's arrest last year," the company said in a statement yesterday. "Control of the matter is in the hands of these authorities."