Stolen bar mat lands Australian in Thai jail

/ Source: The Associated Press

An Australian woman arrested for stealing a bar mat from a Thai nightspot appealed Tuesday for government intervention to allow her to return home, saying the theft was a practical joke.

Tourist Annice Smoel claimed she was being unfairly treated for a minor infraction.

But the owner of the Aussie Bar on the resort island of Phuket where Smoel was arrested May 2 said she had abused police who challenged her about the bar mat and tried to run away from them.

Phuket police Maj. Songserm Preecha confirmed Smoel had been charged with stealing a bar mat and that she faced a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $290. He said he could not comment further on the case.

In a conference call to media gathered at her lawyer's office in Australia, Smoel, 36, said she was arrested at the Aussie Bar during a birthday celebration for her mother after two friends put a bar mat into her handbag without her knowing.

She said she spent four nights in jail before being released on bail.

"If they wanted to teach me a lesson, they have well and truly done it," she said.

Police give chase
Aussie Bar owner Steve Wood said Smoel verbally abused the police who confronted her.

"When they talked to her all they wanted to do was chastise her, and they usually let you go," Wood told the Fairfax Radio Network. "But she did a runner on them — the police had to chase her down the beach."

Smoel's lawyer asked Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to "intervene and fix this problem."

"Let's take the worst view, that it was a drunken souveniring of a bar mat: deport her, charge her, get her home, no issue," Murphy said.

'Fun in a bar'
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said Australia's Embassy in Bangkok was aware of the case and Smoel was getting consular assistance.

John Brumby, the premier of Smoel's home state of Victoria, said her behavior appeared to be innocent and warned the case could harm Thailand's reputation with tourists.

"Who'd go to Thailand for a holiday if you can get arrested for having fun in a bar?" he said.