Top EU Court Calls for More Scrutiny in Extradition Cases

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — European Union member states must make sure countries outside the bloc that ask to extradite someone will not torture or kill that person, the EU’s highest court ruled Thursday.

“No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a state where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the European Court of Justice held, calling the impartiality of Russia’s judiciary into question. 

A man walks by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

Though closed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Luxembourg-based court has still been issuing opinions in cases it heard before the outbreak began.

A dual Russian and Icelandic national identified in court documents as I.N. was arrested while on vacation in Croatia in 2019. The Russian bureau of Interpol — the International Criminal Police Organization — issued an arrested warrant for I.N. in 2015 on suspicion of corruption. 

Iceland is not a member of the EU, the 27-member political and economic union, but it is a party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement throughout much of Europe.

“The fact that that state implements and applies the Schengen acquis, renders the situation of that person objectively comparable with that of an EU citizen,” the 13-judge panel found in Thursday’s ruling.  

I.N. is the former director of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations’ Division for Licenses and Certificates in the republic of Karelia, a region in northwest Russia. The Russian Federation alleges that while he was director, I.N. received an 833,000 Russian rouble ($10,700) kickback. 

He was arrested at the border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia while traveling by bus with his family when Croatia authorities detained him. A month after his arrest, Russia requested that he be extradited. At the time of his arrest, I.N. presented travel documents, granted by the Icelandic government, indicating that he was a refugee.

On June 19, 2019, only a few weeks before his vacation, I.N. officially became a citizen of Iceland. He had been granted asylum in the country four years prior, in June 2015. 

In his opposition to the extradition request, I.N. told a Croatian court that he was fearful he would be tortured if he was returned to Russia, a fear Iceland found credible enough to grant him asylum. 

Given I.N.’s detention, the Croatian Supreme Court requested the process before the Court of Justice be expedited, under the court’s urgent procedure. Cases can often take years to finalize but this request was submitted in December 2019. 

Under a previous decision by the court, known as the Petruhhin decision, EU states must give the opportunity for a country to prosecute its own citizens themselves. The Court of Justice noted in Thursday’s ruling that an EU country “must inform the member state of which the person concerned is a national and, should that member state so request, surrender the person concerned to it.”

In the case of I.N., the court ruled that Iceland’s decision to grant him asylum means Croatia should deny the extradition request, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

“In the absence of specific facts, including inter alia significant changes in the situation in the requesting third state or indeed substantial and reliable information to demonstrate that the person whose extradition is requested obtained asylum by concealing the fact that he or she was subject to criminal proceedings in his or her country of origin, the existence of a decision of the Icelandic authorities granting that person asylum must thus lead the competent authority of the requested member state, such as the referring court, to refuse extradition,” the ruling states.

The case was sent back to the original Croatian court. Thursday’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed. 

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