Dublin: Irish police are hoping that Thailand is too distracted by its internal woes to bother with a fugitive Australian alleged drug smuggler who has popped up 18 years later as a Dublin cafe proprietor.
Lisa Marie Smith, now 38 years old, fled Thailand in 1996 at age 21 while on bail and facing a possible death sentence, after being allegedly caught with 4 kilograms of hashish and more than 500 amphetamine tablets.
She was sighted in Athens later that same year, and it was assumed she had taken a false identity and was hiding somewhere in Europe.
However last week the Irish Sun newspaper reported that she was the co-owner of Hippety’s Cafe, a small, brightly-painted cafe in the cobblestoned streets of trendy Temple Bar in the Irish capital.
On Friday a reporter from that newspaper confronted "Lisa Smith", who was working behind the counter of the cafe. The Sun reported that “Smith refused to talk about her past”, instead said she had “somewhere to go” and jumped into a car.
Company records retrieved by Fairfax Media show that Ms Smith has been company secretary of Hippety’s Limited, which owns the cafe, since it was incorporated in December 2010.
The Sun reported she had been in the country for more than a decade, working a string of temporary jobs including one at the Howl at the Moon nightclub.
A co-director of Hippety’s is Terence Smith, of Whyte Street in Brighton in Melbourne.
Terry Smith, Lisa Marie's father, was boss of National Mutual Asia in 1996 when he paid a $74,000 surety for his daughter to become the first foreigner in Thailand to be granted bail on drug charges.
Lisa Marie Smith was released from the infamous "Bangkok Hilton" prison after five months inside, and she used her British passport to flee to Europe.
Thailand issued an arrest warrant, and she is still on Interpol’s wanted list.
Interpol told Fairfax it would not comment on the case of Ms Smith. A spokesman said Interpol would rely on local police to conduct investigations, and that the "red notice" on Ms Smith was not the same as an international arrest warrant.
“Interpol cannot compel any member country to arrest the subject of a Red Notice,” the spokesman said. “Many of Interpol’s member countries, however, consider a Red Notice a valid request for provisional arrest, especially if they are linked to the requesting country via a bilateral extradition treaty.”
Ireland does not have an extradition treaty with Thailand – though countries that do include the UK, Belgium and Australia.
Dublin’s Garda police said they could not comment on any individual case. Fairfax understands, however, that the Garda have contacted Thai authorities, asking if the arrest warrant still stands, and if they wish to pursue it.
“Where it stands after that I don’t know,” a Garda source said.
Police here have no plans to arrest or question Ms Smith. She has not been interviewed over, or charged with any crime in the years she has been in Ireland.
The Garda have also contacted UK authorities to see if she is wanted there.
“If nobody wants her, and she is happy, she can stay in Ireland,” the source said.
Reports of Ms Smith’s presence in Dublin sparked heated debate in the Irish capital. One commenter on the Irish Independent website said she was “lucky to escape from one of the most corrupt judicial systems in the world”.
Others said it must be a “slow day at Interpol” if she was among the world’s most wanted criminals.
However other commentators said Ms Smith did not deserve a second chance, and it was unfair to other convicted drug smugglers to let her go free.
Another co-director of Hippety’s is Stephen Maguire, reportedly Smith’s partner.
In March, Maguire was in the local media after a gang of 25 youths attacked him outside the cafe. The attention resulting from the attack drew attention to the cafe and its owner’s secret past.