CHICAGO (CN) – A former Lithuanian judge sued the federal government Monday to block her extradition, claiming she faces possible persecution and even death in her home country after bringing to light child-molestation accusations against high-ranking officials.
Neringa Venckiene, who is jailed in Chicago and has been a fugitive for five years, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Chicago federal court. Her attorney Michael Monico is asking the judge to grant her petition or stay her extradition proceedings.
Venckiene claims dozens of criminal charges leveled by the Lithuanian government against her are “blatantly political” and that the U.S. State Department authorized her surrender without explanation on April 23.
She says she fears retribution in the Baltic Sea country for her part in speaking out against high-ranking officials that she accused of child molestation. The political imbroglio began, she claims, when officials molested her niece at her mother’s home, and Venckiene’s brother died in what she claims are suspicious circumstances. No charges were filed in the abuse case.
After Venckiene and her brother filed complaints with prosecutors, she says in the petition that there were a string of suspicious deaths in connection with the case. In October 2009, Kaunas Regional Court Judge Jonas Furmanavicius, among the officials accused of child molestation, was shot and killed close to his home.
Then her brother Drasius Kedys, who had fallen under suspicion of the judge’s murder, was found dead. Venckiene claims that although the Lithuanian government declared his death was accidental and caused by alcohol-induced asphyxiation, an independent criminologist disputes those findings and says that no alcohol was in his system. Thousands of people attended his funeral, spurring a political movement, according to the lawsuit.
The movement led to the creation of a political party called the Way of Courage, which Venckiene went on to represent in parliament. She claims that 200 police officers descended on her home and forcibly removed her niece from her arms after a court ordered the girl returned to her brother’s ex-girlfriend.
In the aftermath, Lithuanian authorities claimed Venckiene assaulted a police officer and the mother of her niece. Authorities later revoked her judicial and parliamentary immunity.
Venckiene says she fled the country in 2013. Lithuanian authorities issued a warrant for her arrest in 2015.
Though she had been living in Crystal Lake, Ill., with her teenage son Karolis and working at a nursing home, and later as a florist, she gave herself up to authorities in February, according to the Associated Press.
“The request to extradite for what amounts to a minor crime committed in the midst of a gale is too far out of proportion to common sense to be anything other than an extradition for political purposes. It has all the earmarks of a subterfuge and Ms. Venckiene’s treatment should she be sent back to Lithuania to answer for five and six year old alleged criminal offenses is in and of itself alarming,” the 21-page lawsuit states.
“They have no reason to have me back but to kill me,” Venckiene told the AP from prison earlier this month.
While Venckiene and her brother received widespread support in Lithuanian, others were skeptical of their molestation claims and guessed that Kedys made up the charges as he battled for custody of his child with the mother, who he also implicated, according to the AP report.
Venckiene’s petition argues the extradition request is politically motivated and falls under the “political offense” exception to a treaty between the Lithuanian government and the United States.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick declined to comment.
Venckiene’s attorneys at the Chicago firm Monico & Spevack were not immediately available Monday for comment.