Delays in getting death-penalty assurances from Thailand don’t justify discharge in extradition case: Judge

A man wanted for murder in Thailand has lost a bid to be discharged from his extradition proceedings over delays.

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A man who is being sought for extradition to Thailand on murder charges has lost a bid to be discharged because of delays in getting assurances he won’t face the death penalty in the Asian country.

Prince Michael Obi, also known as Mzwakhe Memela, is being accused in the murder of Susama Ruenrit, a 35-year-old jewelry dealer, in her hotel room in Bangkok on March 24, 2019.

An autopsy determined that Ruenrit had a wound to the back of her head but that she had died of asphyxiation from neck compression.

CCTV footage placed Obi at the scene and a friend of the victim told police that on the night before the murder Ruenrit had told her that Obi was leaving Thailand so she would like to “take him for a treat” before he left. He was arrested when he arrived in Canada later that month.

After a hearing in July last year, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather MacNaughton ordered Obi committed for extradition to Thailand.

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The next step was for the federal justice minister to decide whether to surrender him to Thai authorities. Soon after the judge’s order was made, Canadian officials contacted Thai officials in order to get assurances that Obi would not face the death penalty should he be convicted in a Thai court.

On Sept. 30, Thai authorities provided assurances that Obi would not be subject to the death penalty but the minister decided that the assurances were insufficient and did not meet constitutional protections.

On Oct. 16, the minister ordered that Obi be conditionally surrendered to Thailand if proper death-penalty assurances could be obtained. At the same time, under Canadian extradition law, the minister had 45 days to make a final decision unless sufficient cause for the delay could be established.

On April 9 of this year, Thai authorities provided further assurances and, to date, the minister has not made a final decision.

Meanwhile, Obi applied to be discharged on grounds that there were undue delays in the proceedings.

But in a ruling released Thursday, MacNaughton declined to grant him the discharge. The judge said the minister might require “substantial time” to obtain satisfactory assurances that allow the constitutional obligations to be met and obtaining assurances that would benefit Obi.

“There has been no delay on the part of the minister. Although Thailand did not respond as quickly as it might have, it has now done so,” MacNaughton said.

Outside court, Andrew Bonfield, a lawyer for Obi, said that he and his client might want to consider an appeal since if the appeal is successful, Obi should be discharged.

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