Saturday, October 01, 2005

Extradition follies

We didn't think we'd gotten into blogging to do sympathetic posts about well-off suits who probably did some financially dodgy stuff, but then the Global War on Terror changed everything. Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs req'd) reports on an UK-US extradition case:

Britain's home secretary ordered the extradition of former Morgan Crucible Co. Chief Executive Officer Ian P. Norris to the U.S. to stand trial on charges of price fixing and obstruction of justice.

Lawyers for Mr. Norris, 62 years old, said they will appeal the ruling to Britain's High Court. If the decision stands, it would represent the first time the U.S. has extradited a foreigner for an antitrust offense, lawyers say.

... In 2003, the United Kingdom and the U.S. signed an extradition treaty that was hailed as a way to extradite terrorists expeditiously because it didn't require as much legal evidence to be presented as previously was necessary. The U.S. has yet to ratify the treaty, but key elements of the pact were incorporated into the U.K.'s Extradition Act of 2003.

Mr. Norris's defenders have asserted, among other things, that the charges against him relate to alleged activities that occurred before price fixing was a crime in the U.K.

In a statement, the Home Office said: "Although the statutory offense of price fixing did not become law until 2002, our understanding is that the alleged conduct equates to the offense of conspiracy to defraud, for which extradition to the U.S. is possible under the Extradition Act 2003."

The Home Office statement is truly bizarre. "Our understanding is that ..." -- which kind of sounds like what someone would say not having read any of the actual documents in the case. Did Al Gonzales just give you a quick run-down over the phone, Mr Clarke?

And as for the substance of the statement, it makes pretty clear that what the US did was redefine "price fixing" (non-extraditable) to be "conspiracy to defraud" (extraditable). In other words, the UK-US extradition treaty might as well allow for extradition from the UK to the US (but not vice versa) for "doing bad stuff," because the US will simply reclassify any allegation sufficiently to meet the provisions of the UK law. And the Home Office will go along with it. This is bad news for the NatWest Three.

The same week brings news that the government of Colombia seems to have higher standards:

[BBC] A Colombian right-wing paramilitary leader wanted on drug trafficking charges by the US will not be extradited, the government has said. It said Diego Fernando Murillo, known as Don Berna, could stay in Colombia provided he honoured the terms of a peace process with the government. The US said it would continue to seek Don Berna's extradition. He is alleged to have worked for the drug-trafficker Pablo Escobar before emerging as an AUC commander.

It seems then that Mr Norris's only mistake was not being criminal enough. If we were conservative bloggers, we'd stop there with a "heh" or "indeed," but we're not done. Because the sudden scruples of the Colombian government about extraditing one of their own to the US stand in marked contrast to their eagerness to have the Irish "Colombia Three" sent back to Bogota -- one of the arguments against being that the Colombian government is far too close to right-wing death squads, such as the aforementioned Don.

It does seem as if the Three will be able to hold out against any such request, not least because of Bertie Ahern's eagerness to stay on the right side of Sinn Fein. And since the Republic's burden for extradition seems higher than the UK's these days, our non-expert legal advice to Mr Norris and the Nat West Three would be to consider a move to the place that puts the Free in Free State. We've even got Harvey Nichols!

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