UK Thai extraditions off after judge in 'unlicensed adviser' case said prisons not up to scratch
WANTED suspects are unlikely to ever be extradited from the UK to Thailand unless it drastically improves its prison conditions, a judge has ruled.
District Judge John McGarva discharged an extradition request from Thailand for British financial advisor Neil Robbirt, saying that it would breach his human rights to send him because of poor prison conditions over there.
Judge McGarva found against Robbirt in every other aspect of his challenge against extradition, which included claims that "corrupt" Thai investigators had been "bribed" by investors who lost huge sums of cash after taking advice from him.
However, he ruled that he could not be sent there as Thailand was incapable of meeting Robbirt's "required standards in prison" because its own were "so far apart" from European standards.
He said that to send him would lead to a breach of his "article 3" rights which "prohibit torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," if he were kept in Bangkok remand prison.
In a written judgement released last month, Judge McGarva said: "In relation to prison conditions I have not found against you. The judicial authority accepts that you can't be extradited without a valid assurance and that valid assurance has not been provided.
"The crux of the case is if I should ask for further assurance and I found I should not ask for further assurance.
"Thailand has had every opportunity to give an assurance.
"I am not confident it would come back with anything any where near meeting your standards.
"There are cultural difficulties in it meeting your prison standards for square meterage and toilet facilities that are not European complaint.
"In fact, they expect you to sleep on a mattress on the floor and keep coming back with the same conditions offered.
"I don't believe you would get more if I asked for it myself."
Thailand and the UK have had an extradition treaty since 1911, however, there has, so far only been one successful request from the former.
Lee Aldhouse, 37, who was wanted as he was accused of stabbing to death former US Marine Dashawn Longfellow, 23, in a Phuket bar fight.
The semi-professional kickboxer also known as "Pitbull" was arrested as he arrived at Heathrow Airport after fleeing Thailand in 2010.
He was extradited after losing an appeal to the High Court and Aldhouse, later avoided the death penalty after pleading guilty to the murder and was jailed for 25 years in November 2013.
Aldhouse (below) has since said the assurance was nowhere near complied with and maintains that he was held in cramped conditions for much of his confinement, that he was not provided with proper food or health care, and that he was transferred to Klong Prem which the Thai authorities had expressly said they would not do.
Judge McGarva, sitting at Westminster Magistrates' Court, said assurances given by Thailand in respect of Aldhouse had been broken.
He said: "I take the view what happened was Lee Aldhouse's assurances were not complied with. I am not suggesting it is bad faith on the part of Thailand, I think it is a country that is not able to do it as its standards are so far apart."
Thailand was given 14 days to appeal the Robbirt judgement, but declined to do so.
Robbirt, 60, was arrested in Kent in September 2020 on an international arrest warrant which alleged that he engaged in "unregulated securities and investment business" in Thailand.
He was later released on conditional bail and "denies the allegations in the strongest possible terms" and contested the extradition request on all grounds.
The IAW alleged that "on dates unknown between 2001 and 2006 in the territory of Thailand, he engaged in securities and investments business, when he was not authorised or had permission to do so from the Thai authorities."
It said this was contrary to section 19 and 23 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
A lawyer representing Robbirt, from Ashford, Kent, said he had "submitted a large body of defence evidence to Westminster Magistrates' Court which comprehensively challenges and defeats each and every allegation levelled against him."
In 2016 it was reported in Thailand that Robbirt and his business Global Consultant Co, Ltd were the subjects of a criminal complaint by the Thai Securities Exchange Commission to the Royal Thai Police for operating without a licence there.
Robbirt had been operating in Thailand since 1994.
He had been advising mainly expatriate retirees on investment schemes to put savings into.
His lawyer said: "Mr Robbirt and Global Consultants had operated in Thailand for 23 years without incident and had been in regular contact with the Thai SEC for many years regarding licencing in conjunction with (a) their Thai lawyers Watson Farley & Williams, (b) the British Chamber of Commerce and (c) a number of other independent financial advisers (lFAs)."
Westminster Magistrates' Court heard that Robbirt earnt commissions for advising people to invest into schemes.
In one case, it heard that, on his advice, four British ex-pats invested a combined total of more than £1.3m in LMIM Managed Performance Fund, which was regulated and licensed in Australia, but went into liquidation in 2013, causing them to lose all their life savings.
The investors and Thai government claimed that Robbirt was not licenced to give them the advice.
However, Robbirt said was no prima facie case against him as there was no licence available in Thailand for a foreign national to be based in Thailand and advise other foreigners about investments outside of Thailand, so it was not possible for him to obtain one, and the offence was not listed in the 1911 extradition treaty, so he should not be extradited.
Judge McGarva disagreed.
He wrote: "I simply need to look at the conduct in Thailand and ask would it be an offence in the United Kingdom; the conduct is providing financial advice without authorisation which certainly would be.
"I am therefore satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offence is an extradition offence for the purpose of section 137 Extradition Act 2003.
"It is clear that the conduct alleged is providing investment advice in Thailand without authority; whether or not there was actually an applicable licence is a distraction."
Robbirt claimed he too all practical steps to operate legally and that from meetings with Thai officials he was left feeling he would not be extradited once he left the country.
Robbirt told the court he suspected the "gang of four" investors had paid Thai officials to prosecute him in the hope it would help see the return of their money.
Judge McGarva added: "In this case Mr Robbirt contends that there has been an abuse of process because the Thai authorities have been manipulated or bribed by a group of aggrieved investors to bring this case.
"Mr Robbirt relies on a 'bread crumb trail' which he says add together to show there are reasonable grounds to believe an abuse has taken place.
"It starts with one of the 'gang of four' investors Mr Smith sending e-mails to Mr Robbirt demanding repayment of commission received by him in respect of Mr Smith’s investment.
"It goes a stage further when Mr Robbirt’s lawyer Tossaporn receives an e-mail from Mr Sangakorn of the SEC on 2nd December 2015 requesting that Mr Robbirt sends proposals for compensation to the investor’s representative Ron Leeman by Friday 11th December 2015.
"This email was before the launch of the criminal proceedings. Once Criminal proceedings had been launched Mr Robbirt received an email purporting to be on behalf of the 'gang of four' investors dated 28th December 2017.
"The email says the investors have been asked to provide evidence in support of the criminal investigation and that unless he pays 70 percent of their claim which totals over £3,000,000 including compound interest they will continue to support the criminal prosecution.
"It is also contended that the prosecution is selective; Mr Robbirt is only one of a number of financial consultants who traded in Thailand using the same business model and who were on the alert list, but he is the only one who has been prosecuted.
"It is alleged that it is likely that the four investors have paid bribes to the Thai authorities who are alleged to be institutionally corrupt and Mr Robbirt says this can be the only explanation for Pol. Maj. Sangakorn becoming involved in the request for compensation when his only interest should have been the issue of Mr Robbirt trading without a licence."
Although Judge McGarva accepted Mr Sangakorn's involvement with investors was unusual, he was not pursauded it was corrupt.
He added: "I have considered the combination of events carefully. It is clear that the “gang of four” investors did pursue their claim with vigour; this may be unsurprising given they had lost a significant proportion of their life savings. Their claims go well beyond simply alleging Mr Robbirt operated without a licence. They accuse him of being knowingly involved in a “Ponzi” type scheme and at least of being negligent in not acting on red flags.
"Their joint email does go beyond the realms of what is acceptable; they are threatening to support the prosecution unless they are paid huge amounts in compensation.
"However, this does not necessarily taint the Thai authorities; they were investigating the issue of licensing before the LMIM collapse. It is far from certain that payment of compensation would have stopped the Thai Authorities proceeding.
"It is notable that the Thai authorities have not prosecuted the Requested Person for fraud but simply for trading without a licence ; had the Thai authorities been under the control of the “gang of four” investors they would have widened the scope of the prosecution to improve the chances of the four gaining compensation.
It is not uncommon for victims in this country to exert considerable pressure on the prosecuting authorities to proceed with a case; it does not follow that the independence of the prosecutor has been compromised.
"It is irregular that Pol. Maj. Sangakorn became involved in the request for compensation; I think it was unwise to say the least. I do not however accept it as evidence of corruption.
"I am satisfied that; the Requesting state has established that the conduct is unlawful with regard to their laws, they have clearly set out the applicable law in Thailand.
"I am also satisfied that the conduct would be an offence under UK law.
"I am not satisfied that he has been lulled into a false sense of security by the actions of the Government of Thailand."
Despite all this, he discharged extradition due to concerns over prison conditions.
Investors, now well into retirement, who lost money through taking Robbirt's advice, were "sickened" by the outcome.
One said: "The impact upon myself has been over ten years of stress, worry and uncertainty that has no doubt affected the health of myself and other investors.
"The suspension of the extradition request on what feels like a technicality has made me feel sick to my stomach – especially since every single logical/professional objection submitted by his legal team was dismissed as unfounded and it’s purely the Judge's belief (over prison conditions).
"The validity of the 1911 extradition treaty is also now quite vague since any Brit can now operate illegally in Thailand and if the police begin to investigate all they need to do is to skip back to the UK knowing that the Thai civil rights record on prison conditions means that they cannot be extradited."
UPDATE: On April 7 2022 Essex News and Investigations was contacted by a lawyer representing Mr Robbirt, who wished to make the following statement by way of explanation or contradiction, in response to this report of the conclusion of the extradition proceedings:
"Your article tends to insinuate that Global Consultants (GC) provided offshore financial advice, however, evidence was adduced at the extradition hearing that this was not the case. From inception all financial advice was and is given by Global Investments (GI), registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in 1994.
The legally registered Thai company, GC, only provided back-office support and administration to our client's overseas based offices.
'The gang of four' correctly said under oath in their first affidavit that they had dealt with GI.
Although in their second affidavit they changed this company to GC. This was completely contradictory evidence (both, different affidavits were provided to the court at the hearing).
It was established in court that the gang of four had dealt with GI by showing a copy of one of Mr Smith's investment contracts clearly showing GI as the financial advisor.
This was the same contract that the Thai authorities presented although they did not include the page showing GI with our client's signature and company stamp.
The gang of four sent our client three different threatening letters wherein they proclaimed the licensing issue would in effect go away if our client paid them vastly inflated refunds for monies that they had chosen to invest of their own free will.
The gang of four had invested in the LM Managed Performance Fund for many years and had received healthy multi-currency returns.
The fund manager, LMIM, was licensed by ASIC (financial regulator in Australia) and had operated for over 20 years.
Neil Robbirt also had a substantial personal investment with them.
LMIM was audited by Ernst & Young.
Any and all recovery actions need to be taken up with the relevant parties in Australia."