Europe’s top rights court OKs deportation of former US solider from Ukraine | Courthouse News Service
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Europe’s top rights court OKs deportation of former US solider from Ukraine

The ex-U.S. Army soldier arrived in Ukraine in 2015 to fight against Russia as part of a far-right paramilitary unit and now faces murder charges.

(CN) — Ukraine can extradite a solider turned mercenary back to the United States to face murder and conspiracy charges, the European Court of Human Rights held on Thursday. 

Deporting the ex-U.S. Army soldier would not violate his human rights, the Strasbourg-based court held, finding there was little chance he’d be given the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole. 

Craig Lang has been fighting his extradition from Ukraine since 2019. He is wanted on multiple charges in North Carolina, Florida and Arizona of killing Danny and Deana Lorenzo during a fake gun sale in 2018. According to the Justice Department, the 33-year-old veteran intended to rob the couple of $3,000 and use the money to travel to Venezuela to join a paramilitary group. 

According to reporting by BuzzFeed, at Lang's extradition hearing in Kyiv in 2021, he claimed U.S. authorities intended to prosecute him for war crimes in Ukraine. Since his discharge from the army in 2015, Lang has lived in Ukraine on and off, as one of a number of Americans who have joined mercenary or Ukrainian military units. 

Lang’s lawyers had hoped to convince the judges at the rights court that the judicial system in the United States doesn’t meet the standards set out in the European Convention of Human Rights, the 1959 treaty that underpins the court. 

Some of the charges Lang is facing carry the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole, both of which are forbidden by the convention. 

However, Ukraine had already gotten the assurance of the United States that the death penalty wouldn’t be imposed if he was convicted and that he would be given the opportunity to contest a life sentence as part of the extradition agreement. Kyiv was further assured that Lang wouldn’t be charged with any crimes other than the ones he was already facing. 

Lang argued there was no legal obligation for the U.S. to keep its promises. But the seven-judge panel found he hadn’t shown that U.S. authorities were likely to renege on the deal. He “failed to present any evidence, either before the Ukrainian authorities and courts or before the Court, to elucidate the level of likelihood that he would be sentenced to life imprisonment in the U.S.,” the court said. 

A grand jury in Florida indicted Lang and his co-defendant, Alex Zwiefelhofer, in July. 

The court has historically been unwilling to block extradition from its 46 member states to the U.S., provided the death penalty isn’t imposed. Last year, the court gave the green light to the United Kingdom and Italy's deportation of two suspects wanted for serious crimes in the United States after finding the pair wouldn’t face sentences of life without parole. 

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