South African drug convict seeks extradition

South African drug convict seeks extradition

The absence of prisoner exchange treaty makes return almost impossible, write King-oua Laohong and Supapong Chaolan

Ashley Oosthuizen, who is serving life imprisonment in Thailand for international drug trafficking.
Ashley Oosthuizen, who is serving life imprisonment in Thailand for international drug trafficking.

A South African woman who is behind bars in Thailand for drug-related charges has been thrust into the spotlight after authorities rejected her family's plea to have her extradited to her home country. The authorities cited the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

Since Lynette Blignaut found out about her daughter Ashley Oosthuizen's imprisonment in 2020 over drug charges, she has been relentless in seeking public support for her daughter's extradition to South Africa.

Oosthuizen left South Africa to teach English abroad shortly after finishing high school in 2018.

The dream, however, was short-lived, as she was arrested in a sting operation.

She was arrested on Oct 8, 2020 in Surat Thani's Koh Samui district on charges of smuggling and possessing more than 20 grammes of MDMA -- commonly known as ecstasy, which is classified as a Class 1 narcotic -- after signing for a package from abroad which contained illegal drugs.

In May last year, the court handed Oosthuizen the death penalty that was then commuted to a life sentence, which she is currently serving at Nakhon Si Thammarat Central Prison.

She is in the process of appealing her sentence, a process which could go on for months, Ms Blignaut said.

Pol Col Yutthana Sirisombat, chief of Bophut police in Surat Thani's Koh Samui district, said officials made their move after the Office of the Narcotics Control Board and Thailand Post received a tip-off about an incoming package containing drugs.

The package arrived at the sorting centre in Bangkok's Laksi district from the United Kingdom.

It was addressed to Dave Rensburg in Moo 6 Bophut, Koh Samui, Surat Thani, Pol Col Yutthana said.

An X-ray of the package showed what looked like concealed drugs. Inside, authorities found a plastic packet containing about 260 grammes of brown crystalline substances, Pol Col Yutthana said.

After the substance was tested using a re-agent, ONCB officials concluded it was MDMA and alerted police to take action, the officer said.

Ashley Oosthuizen, who is serving life imprisonment in Thailand for international drug trafficking.

Pol Col Yutthana said the package was forwarded to the intended destination -- a restaurant called Hot in the Biscuit -- as part of a sting operation on Oct 8, adding it was picked up by Oosthuizen.

After she admitted that the drugs were sent in by her boyfriend who lives in Ukraine, police took her in for questioning.

She denied any involvement during the examination, Pol Col Yutthana said.

Siriporn Somwang, the owner of the house in which the restaurant was located, told police that a foreigner named Dave Rensburg had previously rented her house to operate the restaurant business for one year, Pol Col Yutthana said.

Later, Mr Rensburg sold the business to the woman's boyfriend, who also took over the lease on the house, Ms Siriporn said.

She said Mr Rensburg had nothing to do with any illegal wrongdoing at the property, according to Pol Col Yutthana.

The boyfriend was later identified as Tristan Seth Nettles, an American national.

He had left Thailand on Aug 3, 2020, before Oosthuizen was arrested.

Pol Maj Gen Sathit Polpinit, chief of Surat Thani police, said the police handled the investigation carefully before sending the case to court.

Thawatchai Chaiyawat, deputy director-general of the Department of Corrections, said authorities can't accept the extradition request filed by Oosthuizen's mother, as Thailand and South Africa do not have treaty regarding prisoner transfers.

"Only when such a treaty is in force between the two countries can such a transfer be possible," he said.

Mr Thawatchai said Oosthuizen was being treated properly in prison, in line with internationally-accepted human rights principles, adding she has already received three shots of Covid-19 vaccine and is now teaching yoga to other inmates.

"Oosthuizen remains in good spirits and gets along well with other inmates, many of whom are foreigners," he said.

Mr Thawatchai said Oosthuizen is eligible to be considered for a royal pardon, which would be granted on important occasions.

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