Extradition for Nigerian wanted for alleged murder of Thai woman on hold
A Nigerian man wanted for the murder of a Thai woman has been told he must remain in detention until Canada gets assurances from Thailand he won’t face the death penalty if extradited.
The Nigerian, allegedly identified as John Odoemenam but using a fake South African passport with the name, Mzwakhe Memela, and also known as Prince Michael Obi, last month asked to be discharged from custody saying the government lacks “sufficient cause” required under the Extradition Act to keep him detained, but the British Columbia Supreme Court told him he had to stay put in North Fraser Pretrial Centre.
Memela was arrested after arriving in Canada in 2019, accused of the alleged murder of Susama Ruenrit, a woman who was found dead by asphyxiation in her room on the sixth floor of Vabua Asotel Hotel, on Soi Lat Phrao 130, in Bangkok in March 2019. The 35 year old woman, who was found dead by hotel staff, also had a cut on her head as if hit by a blunt instrument.
Closed-circuit TV footage showed the victim and Memela, who holds both South African and Nigerian passports, entering and leaving the woman’s room at the relevant time periods.
Ruenrit had checked into the hotel the day before and was seen on CCTV leaving her room that evening before returning. Memela is seen on CCTV walking toward the room the next morning, waiting for about a minute and then being let in. About 45 minutes later, he’s seen opening the door and leaving the room.
A friend of the victim told police that on the night before the murder she had met with Ruenrit, who had told her that Obi was leaving Thailand so she would like to “take him for a treat” before he left.
The victim’s father, Prapreut Ruenrit, recalled that Ruenrit had left home on Saturday night to deliver an expensive jewellery item to a customer, whom she likely would be meeting at the hotel. The 66 year old alleges she had 700,000 baht worth of valuables on her.
Justice Heather MacNaughton says the Nigerian’s prolonged detention has been the result of ongoing work by the Department of Justice to ensure he doesn’t face capital punishment – something she noted officials are “constitutionally required to do” before transferring his custody.
“Seeking a satisfactory death penalty assurance amounts to ‘sufficient cause’ against the discharge of Mr Obi.”
Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976 while capital punishment for members of the military was ended in 1998.
The Supreme Court of Canada then ruled in 2001 that it would be unconstitutional to extradite two men accused of a triple murder to the US without a guarantee they would not face a state execution.
Those terms have since been enshrined in the extradition treaty between the two countries – but the situation is a bit more complicated in Thailand.
The attorney general of Canada first requested a death penalty assurance in July 2020 and the Thai authorities provided one in September of that year.
Canadian officials were not satisfied by the initial assurance provided by Thailand, however, and more diplomatic talks continued between October 2020 and May 2022, which culminated in a third death penalty assurance from Thailand. The Thai authorities also acknowledged that Memela had already served three years in detention and would receive credit for his time served in Canada.
MacNaughton made public that Canada has received a satisfactory death penalty assurance from Thailand in “only one case” and that the extradition process is complicated in the kingdom.
She revealed a different extradition process involving Thailand that lasted roughly a decade, from 2001 to 2011, but was restricted partway through by the military coup in 2006, which added to the existing uncertainties.
In the end, Canada agreed to extradite the accused without an assurance, but with a number of reasons to believe he would not face the death penalty.
“Thailand did not then have domestic legislation authorizing death penalty assurances. This does not appear to have changed.”
MacNaughton added, that Ruenrit’s murder is “entirely circumstantial,” but found that it had no bearing on the process and says he must stay in Canada, for now.
“While diplomatic discussions about the death penalty assurance are ongoing between Canada and Thailand, Mr Obi’s circumstances do not warrant relief.”
SOURCES: CTV NEWS The Nation Vancouver Sun
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