Court denies US extradition in warship fuel fraud case

Court denies US extradition in warship fuel fraud case

The Criminal Court has refused a request to extradite a Thai woman charged with colluding in fraud in the sale of fuel to a visiting US warship in 2011.

The court on Tuesday dismissed the case and ordered the release of the woman (name withheld) within 72 hours.

Prosecutors had earlier sought the extradition of the woman to the US under the Extradition Act.

They sought a court order to extradite her to stand trial in the US.

The woman was taken from the Central Women's Correctional Institution to hear the court’s ruling. During the court proceedings she had been denied bail.

She was accused of collusion with two other people who were earlier extradited from Singapore and convicted by a California court. She allegedly falsified a quotation via email for the sale of diesel fuel ordered by the US military during a port visit to Thailand by a US warship in October 2011.

The defendant failed to supply the fuel, prosecutors alleged. Damage was put at more than $1 million 

The Thai court found that the defendant was a mere employee in Thailand of a company based in Singapore. The two other defendants were employees of the parent company in Singapore. 

Although the California court jailed one of the two extradited defendants for 70 months and the other for 46 months, the Criminal Court took into consideration the offence each individual actually committed. 

The court said it had reviewed the testimony given by the defendant and found it was considered confidential when a US warship moored at a port in Thailand. Thus, the defendant was not aware at what time the ship arrived and did not send the falsified email as alleged.

The court found that the plaintiff had only one item of evidence against the defendant, that she sent the fake email to the US military. However, the letterhead was not submitted to the court to show how the defendant committed the offence.

The evidence submitted to the court was insufficient to prove that the defendant had committed the offences alleged in the suit, the court ruled. It dismissed the extradition case.

The ruling was greeted with delight by the defendant's mother, her husband and relatives, who were at the court to give her encouragement. They all rushed to hug her, Thai media reported.

The US warship involved was not identified. However, at the height of the "Big Flood" in October-November 2011, the US guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin made a routine stop at Laem Chabaeng, arriving on Oct 21.

Thai authorities were reported to have asked that the ship prolong its stay and its two helicopters assist with aerial surveillance of the flooded areas. The ship was still in Laem Chabaeng on Nov 1, according to the US Navy Pacific fleet website. 

The US had deployed other ships towards Thailand especially to assist, including an aircraft carrier, but was informed their assistance was not requested.

The extradition request was linked to the "Fat Leonard" corruption scandal involving the US Navy and Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based firm run by Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian national known as "Fat Leonard".

Francis provided at least a half million dollars in cash, plus travel expenses, luxury items, and prostitutes to a large number of US uniformed officers of the United States Seventh Fleet, who in turn gave him classified material about the movements of US ships and submarines, confidential contracting information, and information about active law enforcement investigations into Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

Francis then "exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal".

US federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 33 people. Of those, 22 pleaded guilty, including Francis himself, and 17 navy officials, 10 of whom were commissioned officers.

In a link to Thailand, Alex Wisidagama, formerly the general manager of global contracts at Glenn Defense Marine, was accused of providing bogus invoices and phony competitive bids to inflate the costs for the services the company provided. He admitted overbilling the US navy more than $20 million.

In one example cited by prosecutors, when the USS Mustin visited Thailand in October 2011, Wisidagama presented the Navy with a $2.3-million invoice for fuel, an alleged overcharge of $1.3 million.

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