Briton In Thai Prison Fighting Australian Extradition For Nearly A Year International case involving senior Australian police as co-defendent
JAMES Henry Kinch says he would rather endure months or even years more in Bangkok's notorious Klong Prem prison than return to Australia, where he trusts neither the police nor the judicial system but is wanted as an accused and a witness. Along with one-time NSW Crime Commission assistant director Mark Standen, Kinch was charged by Australian authorities last year with conspiring to import 600kg of pseudoephedrine (used to make the drug ice) into Australia.
Arrested in Bangkok on May 31 last year, two days before Standen and a third man, food importer Bill Jalalaty, were picked up by the Australian Federal Police in Sydney, the pugnacious Kinch decided to stand his ground and resist any attempts to get him back to Australia. He has been resisting ever since.
Yesterday he appeared again in Bangkok's Central Criminal Court, the latest in a series of extradition hearings that have been under way for months, always with an AFP officer in the back of the court, watching the proceedings.
In his first interview with the media since his arrest, and the first he or his alleged co-conspirators have granted to a journalist, Kinch tells Inquirer he will not surrender to Australian pressure.
Kinch, 50, who in the past has been arrested in Australia on drugs charges and admits he has served time in a British jail for armed robbery, says the accusations are rubbish, fabricated by the Australian authorities to justify an expensive two-year investigation that went nowhere. "They spent two years bugging calls, offices, email. They had to justify that in the end. There's nothing there; nobody was doing anything. They couldn't back down, the AFP," he says.
He grimaces, saying he knew Standen but he wasn't a close friend, adding that he would never do anything as stupid as smuggle drugs in cahoots with a senior cop or with Jalalaty, a businessman he has described in unflattering terms. "What kind of lunatic would I be? To trust the deputy of the Crime Commission, and Jalalaty, who I've described as a Mr Bean, a Walter Mitty character. It's one big farce. It's been one thing after another. I didn't even know what pseudoephedrine was until this."
Kinch admits he supplied $1.7 million to Jalalaty to establish a food importing business but denies the money had anything to do with setting up a front for drug importations. "I was trying to do straight things, legal things," he says. "The guy lost the money, that's the end of that."
The case against Kinch, Jalalaty and Standen, who was a former AFP officer as well as being a senior Crime Commission investigator, exploded white-hot last year: a serving senior officer allegedly caught conspiring to smuggle illegal drugs on a vast scale. Standen was a trusted insider with a working knowledge of organised crime in Australia. And now he was accused of conspiring with the enemy.
The nearly simultaneous arrests in Australia, Thailand, the Netherlands and Germany nearly 12 months ago were the culmination of a year-long inquiry. AFP agents and Dutch investigators tapped phones, dipped into emails and monitored drug shipments from as far away as Congo.
Standen has been accused of meeting Kinch, described as a "crucial middleman" with alleged connections to a Dutch drug ring, and Jalalaty in Dubai in 2007 to plot the drug importation. Kinch was allegedly the link to the Netherlands drug syndicate, something he flatly denies. The 600kg of pseudoephedrine, enough to make $120million worth of methamphetamine, or ice, were allegedly intended to arrive in Australia in a container sent from Pakistan and destined for Jalalaty's food import business. The container duly arrived. It was searched. Nothing was found.
Kinch will not talk about anything that may or may not have happened in Dubai, and he says the reason no drugs were found in the container is simply because the drugs never existed, not because they were offloaded somewhere. Standen's lawyer, Gordon Elliot, asked an AFP officer at his client's committal in Sydney last month whether a microscopic examination had been conducted of the container's contents to determine whether minute traces of the drug indicated it had once been present. He says he was told an examination had been done and no traces were found.
Lawyers for the commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions stalled two days into Standen's committal in February. The magistrate granted an adjournment until next Friday, April 3. "The commonwealth DPP stood up in court and said they don't have the evidence they need," Elliot says. "It appears they don't have the evidence in relation to Mr Standen or Mr Kinch."
Elliot says his client's committal may be dismissed if the prosecutors fail to come up with the evidence on Friday, nearly a year after the arrest of his client. The Crown evidence already runs to 8000 pages, but Kinch insists he and his alleged co-conspirators never mentioned drugs. "It's all interpretation," he says.
The dismissal of Standen's committal could have an immediate effect on Australia's lengthy attempts to extradite Kinch from Thailand. In a statement, the DPP says Standen's committal hearing was adjourned to allow for "the receipt of relevant evidentiary material in admissible form", adding that the length of the adjournment was partly determined by court availability. The statement went on: "The timing of the proceedings against Mr Standen is unrelated to the timing of any proceedings against Mr Kinch."
The British entrepreneur with the greying crew cut has no faith in Australian justice and firmly believes every effort will be made to extradite him, regardless of whether there's "relevant evidentiary material" or not. He is doing everything he can to thwart Australia's bid to haul him back to Sydney. "I'm charged with him (Standen). It's to put the pressure on me so that I would incriminate him, which I've refused to do."
Kinch and his Thai lawyer, Prachaya Vijitpokin, have fought his case for months, since soon after his arrest last May, and it largely has been a matter of contesting documentary evidence supplied by Australia.
The Australian extradition request is not only for the charge of conspiring to import drugs last year but also forcharges first brought in 2003, relating to an alleged attempt to import one tonne of ecstasy in plant-pot bases. Kinch was detained, but the NSW Crime Commission reportedly then withdrew the brief of evidence. Kinch was later named as one of Standen's informants.
"The DPP, not Mark Standen, dropped the charges," says Kinch, who adds he did not know Standen until after the 2003 charges were dropped. "Then they did me for overstaying my visa. I didn't know Mark Standen until well after my arrest. I had no meetings with him until I was acquitted." He insists it's ridiculous to resuscitate charges that he says were dead and buried six years ago. "Any evidence, they had it at that time. There was no new evidence. There's nothing."
Vijitpokin says he is doing battle with a Thai prosecutor assigned to fight the case to extradite Kinch, after the foreign ministry passed on the documents from the Australian Government. Extradition cases typically take at least a year, often two or more, in Thailand and bail is automatically refused. "There are many cases in Thailand," he says. "We cannot rush the case." Vijitpokin recently visited Australia and spoke with Kinch's Sydney solicitor, William O'Brien, who declined to comment to Inquirer.
Kinch says he has been served with a "seizure of assets" form, and transcripts of bugged conversations. "They served the papers on me; transcripts of my conversations with Mark Standen. They hoped I would crack, that I would then decide to join their side," he says. "The problem is, if I win my case, they'll appeal. That'll be another year. They had me for a year from 2003 to 2004. It's almost another year now. I'm a loser all the way around. I can never win. It would be easier to go to Australia, but it's the principle of the matter."
He says the pressure from Australia never lets up. Friends who visit him in Thailand have been followed by mysterious Australians, he says, and since his bank accounts have been frozen he has had to survive on the goodwill of friends and relatives.
In Australia, the ramifications of the arrest of Standen are still echoing through the legal system. Last month, in the District Court in Sydney, the AFP agreed that lawyers representing an accused drug dealer, who was arrested after a sting led by Standen, could see the evidence that will be used against the former senior officer.
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away in the Netherlands, 14 suspects also arrested in connection with the 2008 alleged attempted importation to Australia wait for their trials to begin. Allegedly from the drugs ring linked to Kinch, they will appear in court again for a pre-trial hearing on April 10, according to a spokeswoman for the National Public Prosecutor's Office in Rotterdam, who says she expects the trials to begin in October this year, and a verdict by November. "We want to prosecute them all," she adds. The Dutch evidence already runs to 50,000 pages and the Australian brief will be added to the pile.
Several of these 14 defendants, according to Dutch lawyers, also were connected to the earlier investigation in which Kinch was allegedly central to the attempted importation of a tonne of ecstasy into Australia in pot-plant bases. He was arrested in 2005 in connection with this alleged plot. But Kinch says it's obvious he has no charge to answer in connection with the 2005 case because nearly all the Dutch defendants were acquitted. Yet Dutch lawyers say appeals (by the prosecution) are pending by a court in Arnhem. Kinch is apparently expected to be a witness for the defence.
Dutch police reportedly have said they could have charged Kinch in connection with the 2007-08 investigation, codenamed Mayer, but they decided to leave the carriage of his case to Australia. Kinch denies that. "The Netherlands police have said that I'm not a suspect in this case. It's all designed to get me." He says the actions of the Australian authorities are highly suspect and he has written letters of complaint to international human rights bodies.
He says the translation of various documents has been incorrect, elevating suspicion to fact. He cites one example, where he says a phrase "believed to contain drugs" has been translated as "did contain drugs".
"If I was given a fair trial here, I'd win. But there's far too much interference from the Australian embassy. They sent a representative from the embassy, from the AFP, but he wouldn't testify. They don't want to answer any awkward questions. It's a farce."
- The Australian / 2009-03-28