Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

World shrinks for men on the run

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Martine Vik Magnussen
The murderer of 23-year-old Vik Magnussen is still being sought.

Efforts by the British police to question a man who fled abroad following the murder of a Norwegian student are being frustrated by the absence of an extradition treaty.

Farouk Abdulhak is believed to have flown to Yemen the day before the body of Martine Vik Magnussen, 23, was found in the basement of his central London block of flats.

His lawyers have denied that he had any involvement in Ms Magnussen's death.

They have told a newspaper that while Mr Abdulhak is willing to talk to British detectives, they will have to travel to Yemen. But because Yemen and the UK have not signed an extradition treaty, police will be powerless to return Mr Abdulhak to the UK.

The case throws into focus the apparent ease with which suspects travelling abroad can avoid investigations.

World 'getting smaller'

But a lawyer with more than 30 years' experience of handling extradition cases has said that the world is getting smaller for people who go on the run.

In some countries...all a fugitive needs to do is make a substantial quiet payment to a senior politician and he will not be deported
Robert Rhodes QC, extradition expert

Clive Nichols QC - who successfully fought attempts to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain in 1998 - said that a steady process of international treaty-signing and reciprocal agreements has resulted in fewer hiding places than ever before.

"Extradition is definitely getting easier," he said.

The Home Office said that so far the UK has made reciprocal extradition arrangements with about 120 countries worldwide.

The arrangements bind the UK and the country concerned into an agreement in which each pledges to give up wanted suspects, provided that that certain conditions are met.

And since 2004, special speedy extradition agreements have come into force within the EU under the rules of the European Arrest Warrant.

Britain has also signed up to a controversial agreement with the United States government to fast-track suspects back to the US - even though some critics say the agreement is not adequately reciprocated.

However, that still leaves about 80 countries that have not signed agreements with the UK.

Extradition 'blacklist'

On the extradition blacklist are so-called "rogue" states like North Korea, who have diplomatic relations with very few countries. They also include self-styled states that have not been recognised by the international community - like Northern Cyprus, home of suspected fraudster and fugitive Asil Nadir.

Also on the list are a number of impoverished African states - such as Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic and Ivory Coast.

Mustaf Jama
The Somali government returned Mustaf Jama to the UK.

Many countries in the Middle East - such as Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are not party to a UK extradition agreement, as are some states formerly under control of the USSR, such as Latvia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

In the far east, China does not automatically recognise UK extradition rights. Likewise, Japan, North and South Korea, Laos, and Vietnam are under no obligation to return suspects.

However, the Home Office stresses that because a country has not signed a formal extradition treaty does not automatically mean the suspect will not be returned to the UK.

A spokeswoman said: "The absence of such general arrangements with a particular country does not necessarily mean the UK is unable to seek extradition assistance in other cases.

"In appropriate cases, the UK will consider making an ad hoc request to a foreign state with which it has no general arrangements."

Policewoman murdered

A recent example of a successful "ad hoc" agreement happened last year when 27-year-old Mustaf Jama, wanted in connection with the murder of Pc Sharon Beshenivsky, was successfully brought back from Somalia to Britain - even though the UK and Somalia have no extradition treaty.

Jama is due to go on trial in April.

The case was also notable because Jama - who was born in Somalia - was returned from his native country.

Barrister and extradition expert Robert Rhodes QC said: "Usually, if someone is a national of the country he flees to, and there is no treaty, then there is not much we can do."

Some states - even those who have signed up to an extradition treaty with the UK - routinely refuse to return their own citizens to face justice abroad.

Clive Nichols QC
Clive Nichols QC says extradition is getting easier.

Examples of these include Russia - which says that its constitution forbids it from returning Andrei Lugovoi, wanted for the poison-murder of dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London.

And even though Austria has signed up to the European Arrest Warrant, it still declines to return native Austrians to other countries - preferring instead to try them at home.

'Bribery'

Other factors that might assist a fugitive's chances of seeking successful sanctuary abroad include an ability to bribe the right people.

Mr Rhodes said: "In some countries that do not have extradition treaties with the UK, all a fugitive needs to do is make a substantial quiet payment to a senior politician and he will not be deported."

Experts also agree that fugitives who make a political or religious case for their crimes have a greater chance of escaping "Western" justice by taking refuge in the right countries.

And the consensus is - the higher profile the crime, the less chance that those suspected will escape justice. The case of Mustaf Jama is one example of this. Another is provided by the hunt for the men suspected of the Lockerbie bombing.

Originally, Libya - which has no extradition treaty with the UK - refused to return two men accused of the attack - which killed 259 people on board a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988.

But huge international publicity, and sustained diplomatic pressure on the Libyan government, eventually resulted in the accused men being tried at The Hague - under the rules of the Scottish legal system.

British obstacles

Even Britain sometimes puts obstacles in the way of other countries seeking to extradite suspects, if the courts believe that those being sought will face the death penalty, or have their human rights reduced.

However, extradition experts agree that the tide has turned against the fugitive abroad.

Countries like Brazil and Spain, once the destination of choice for many criminals on the run from British justice - like Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs - have been brought into the extradition fold.

General Pinochet
General Pinochet was not extradited to Spain for health reasons.
And the British criminals hiding in Northern Cyprus are likely to be watching with interest the progress of current peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, which may return the once pariah state into the fold of respectability.

Extradition lawyer Clive Nichols - who describes General Pinochet as "the best client I ever had...very courteous" - said that had the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) existed in 1998, it was likely that the General would have been put onto a speedy flight to Madrid - even though the original reason why Pinochet never stood trial (ill health) would still have saved him from a Spanish court room.

Research indicated that the average time taken to execute an arrest in Europe is now estimated at around 43 days - compared to an average wait of nine months before the EWA came into effect.

"All I can say is that if we had had this system in 1998 then the general would have had problems, "said Mr Nichols.




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