The women – Russian university student on holiday Liliya Karmanova, 20, and her friend Polina Likman, 21 – were arrested by the Karon Police and then taken to be detained at the holding cells at Phuket Provincial Court on Feb 1 following a complaint filed by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) Phuket office.
The complaint was filed after a tip-off – from a person who the DMCR and the Karon Police at the time identified as a “neighbour” who saw Ms Karmanova pouring toilet bleach onto the corals at their rented bungalow in Karon. (See story here.)
Both women were later released on B40,000 bail and now have their passports held pending their case being heard at Phuket Provincial Court, Capt Channarong Prakongkue of the Karon Police told The Phuket News last Wednesday (Feb 7). (See story here.)
If found guilty, the women each face a fine of up to B20,000 or up to a year in jail, or both.
However, in speaking with NGS news portal in her home city of Novosibirsk in Siberia, Ms Karmanova explained that the “neighbour” was in fact their “landlady” at the Nan Inn Bungalow in Karon, where the Russian tourists were staying.
Ms Karmanova also explained that she and Ms Likman bought the corals “from a Thai man at a beach”.
Ms Karmanova also pointed out that she and Ms Likman presented themselves to Karon Police on learning that a warrant had been issued for Ms Karmanova’s arrest. (See NGS news story here.)
The women bought the corals and shells “in a pack” from a Thai man for B100 on January 26, Ms Karmanova explained.
“We knew that it’s illegal to take ‘raw’ corals from Thailand, but not souvenirs made of corals and seashells. That’s why we were sure that there was nothing illegal as we had bought the corals here,” she said.
On returning to their rented bungalow, the women told the landlady about their new souvenirs, but the landlady objected to the smell and banned the women from taking the corals and shells into the bungalow, she added.
Ms Karmanova said that through their limited English she and Ms Likman understood that the landlady warned them that they might “have problems at the airport”.
However, Ms Karmanova explained, “But since we though that we could take out the shells that we had bought here, we did not worry much.”
“The next day we tried to clean them (the corals and shells) with the cleaning agent so that the owner of the hotel would not worry that they would smell,” Ms Karmanova added.
“After a while, she (the landlady) came running in and told us to put the bleach back into the bottle as it was a ‘dangerous chemical’, which we did. We then packed all the shells and corals into a bag and left them in the yard so as not to inflame any new conflicts with the landlady,” she added.
The women planned to take them back to the beach and throw them back into the water later anyway, Ms Karmanova said.
After dealing with the landlady’s concerns, the women went out and returned to their bungalow later only to learn about the police visit, after which the two women voluntarily presented themselves at Karon Police Station, where they were placed under arrest, Ms Karmanova said, clarifying how the pair came to be taken into custody.
The women were later released on B150,000 bail – not B40,000 bail as reported by the DMCR – with the help of a lawyer hired by Ms Karmanova’s parents, NGS reported.
After their release on bail, the pair returned to the bungalow and talked to the “hotel owner”, who accepted their apologies and said she might have gone too far calling the police, said the NGS report.
Ms Karmanova and Ms Likman are expected to have their case heard in court within 48 days.
In the meantime their passports are being held by authorities so they cannot leave the country, as is standard procedure as foreigners are usually deemed a flight risk in any criminal charges.
In addition to fear of going to prison, Ms Karmonova is worried about her university studies, as she will need to prove why she has been unable to attend classes, reported NGS.
Further, Ms Polina’s father claims that both families have had to take out bank loans in order to cover all legal expenses and rising costs of the two students’ forced extended stay in Thailand.
“Polina and I are so grateful to our parents for their help and support. We miss them greatly,” Ms Karmonova said.