By CHRISOPHER LAY, with DAVID COLE
BRUSSELS – Allegations of dubious prisoner extradition requests from Romania combined with politically charged trials in the country are calling into question the relevance and effectiveness of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
So argued experts at a hearing – “The European Arrest Warrant in Question: Cases in Romania and other countries” – held on 7 February at the European Parliament, and hosted by Finnish MEP Hannu Takkula and the NGO, Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWFI).
The EAW allows member states to issue an arrest warrant for an individual requiring their extradition, no matter where in the EU.
But the EAW’s implementation has revealed problems stemming from differences in criminal justice procedures within each member state, said Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials, whose organisation calls for establishing minimum standards for European prisons.
“When the prison system of a state that issues an arrest warrant breaches Article 3 [the article of the EAW providing grounds for its ‘mandatory non-execution’] “the person in question should not be extradited,” he said.
In the case of Romania, HRWFI Director Willy Fuetré said “most of the prisons in Romania were built in the 19th century”, with reports emerging of their continuingly deplorable conditions.
Pointing to Romania’s deteriorating civil rights climate, Russell, Fuetré, human rights lawyer Eeva Heikkilä and researcher Oliver Pahnecke debated the case of Romanian business magnate Dan Adamescu who was arrested by Romanian authorities in May 2016.
Accused of bribing judges, he was convicted and sentenced to more than four years behind bars. Adamescu was believed to have contracted sepsis while jailed in the country’s high-security Rahova state prison. Government authorities denied his requests for surgery for multiple illness, despite crippling knee arthritis that forced him into a wheelchair and an infection that left him blind in one eye.
Adamescu applied for medical parole to receive treatment in other EU countries, and those member states made promises to return him to Romania. But Romanian authorities refused Adamescu’s request, suspecting he would not return. In January, he died in the intensive care ward where he was receiving belated treatment, under guard.
For Pahneck, the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) responsible for judiciary evidence gathering “operates in a very illegal manner.”
Fellow panellist Eeva Heikkilä agreed, recounting Romania’s public officials have been known to declare the outcomes of trials in advance. For example, when Adamescu was arrested, then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta – now under investigation for corruption himself – accused Adamescu of being involved in a “network of corruption” and promised that the businessman’s trial would be a short one.
Ponta’s statement was repeated on news networks, and probably influenced the outcome of the trial. Speculating that the EAW could now be used as an instrument of an increasingly corrupt system, Heikkilä noted that Adamescu’s son, Alex, faces extradition to Romania for bribery charges. The younger Adamescu resides in London, and a hearing on his EAW will be held in April. “The family has already lost its fortune to the government,” Heikkilä said. “Alex’s trial is about survival now.”
Panellists agreed that in its current form, the EAW paves the way for misuse, thus placing the justice of EU citizens at risk. They urged an immediate reform of the EAW.
Now we’re seeing that abuse. However, in the case of Romania this kind of administrative “abuse” is a tricky one to pin down. If a bureaucracy does not want to go along with the spirit of an EU law, it is very difficult to compel respect, short of concrete and verifiable instances of abuse. Erecting a court case based on the fears, however misplaced, of a prison authority would be difficult to prosecute. As would any hidden agenda of political revenge on the Romanian authorities’ part.
If the EAW is going to be reformed, it will have to be demonstrably achievable, based on a widespread need for change. Unless there are other cases similar to that of Romania, the risk is that the latter, unfortunately, will be seen as a one-off case, not meriting the EAW’s wholesale revision.