To investigate the burden which extradition places on Britain’s criminal justice system, The Sunday Telegraph spent a week in the country’s sole extradition court.
Of the 100 or so extradition hearings held every week at City of Westminster magistrates’ court, some involve career criminals or accusations of major crimes.
But in many cases defendants appear bemused to find themselves in court over relatively minor matters, offences they did not realise they had been accused of, or issues they thought had been resolved years ago.
Such cases show the futility of the work carried out so diligently by UK authorities on behalf of other countries.
Suspects are often remanded in custody, leaving British taxpayers to pick up the £700-a-week bill for their prison stay.
In addition there are Legal Aid, court, prosecution and translation expenses, meaning that even the cheapest remand case costs the taxpayer many thousands of pounds.
The large majority of defendants are foreign nationals, about 40 per cent of whom are Polish. Only occasionally does a British citizen appear on a warrant from overseas.
The cases are delayed by numerous adjournments, red tape, missing paperwork and translation difficulties.
Even the video conferencing system, designed to save time and money by bringing fewer suspects from prison for short hearings, suffers from technical and scheduling difficulties.
“It would be quicker to do this by smoke signals,” grumbled one solicitor last week, as the court clerk struggled to arrange a video link with Pentonville prison.
Senior district judge Daphne Wickham complained at one point that faxed reports from lawyers to the court were going missing.
“There is a manpower issue in the international department,” admitted the clerk – a signal, perhaps, that the extradition team is under ever-increasing pressure as the number of warrants from Europe and beyond grows larger every year.
David Barrett and Michael Howie highlight some of the cases which appeared before judges last week.
Bartosz Wesolowski, 28
The case of a Polish man convicted of a minor drug offence in his homeland four years ago has landed British taxpayers with costs running into thousands of pounds.
On New Year’s Eve in 2005, police in the town of Walcz found Wesolowski with 0.15 grams of the drug in his pocket – worth just 65p at today’s street value and barely enough to make a single joint.
Had he been caught with such a small quantity in the UK, it is likely he would have been let off with a verbal warning. Poland takes a tougher approach and according to Robert Katz, Wesolowski’s lawyer, a court handed down a six-month sentence suspended for two years.
Around 18 months later, Wesolowski, believing he was free to travel, came to Britain to look for work. He settled in Bedford, found a job in a factory, and has not been in trouble since.
Yet when the Polish authorities realised he had emigrated they pursued him with a European Arrest Warrant, requiring UK authorities to act. Wesolowski was spending this weekend in Wandsworth Prison with all costs met from the British public purse.
The Pole had been due to appear in court on Friday, when he could have been freed on a £500 bail bond pending a full hearing next month, but an administrative mix-up meant he did not appear.
He now faces the prospect of a month in jail, costing UK taxpayers £2,000.
Mr Katz said the Polish authorities never told his client that he was to be jailed.
“It’s a relatively trivial amount of drug,” said the lawyer, adding that it was “disproportionate” to seek someone’s return after so many years to serve a short prison sentence.
Constantin Tudor, 27
The case of a Romanian accused of robbery demonstrates how Britain is acting as “Europe’s policeman”, putting time and effort into arresting foreign crime suspects and processing their cases when other countries in the European Union have missed opportunities to do so.
Tudor is wanted by authorities in the United Arab Emirates in relation to a jewellery theft in Dubai in July 2007. Yet since the alleged offence, he has spent a significant amount of time in his homeland without being detained, the court heard.
He was arrested when he arrived at Luton airport on August 12, and has been in custody ever since. A check on the Police National Computer showed no criminal record in the UK, but it did reveal he was known to use five aliases.
Louisa Collins, appearing for the UAE, told last week’s extradition hearing: “It is said Mr Tudor made off with 100 diamond rings.
“It is said in order to effect the robbery he sprayed what is described as a noxious gas in the face of the jeweller, Necon Kumar Ashwin, who was serving him at the time.”
Nicholas Hearn, barrister for Tudor, said: “He accepts that he was in Dubai but insists very strongly that it is a case of mistaken identity and that he has played no role in any robbery.”
Tudor was remanded in custody until next month.
Wieslew Kulig, 57
A Polish man is facing costly extradition proceedings over a £200 bank loan he obtained in his homeland 13 years ago – even though he has already paid it off.
Kulig is accused of giving false personal details when he secured the loan in 1997. He has since repaid the sum and settled in Britain, the court heard.
Yet he was arrested in the early hours of Thursday and served with a European Arrest Warrant issued by Polish authorities.
Edward Grainger, his lawyer, said Kulig would be fighting the extradition on the grounds that too much time has passed since the offence was committed.
The court heard he worked as an onion picker and lived with his partner and 32-year-old son in Cambridgeshire.
Mary Westcott, prosecuting for the Polish judicial authorities, said the offence had been classed as a fraud for which Kulig received a six-month suspended sentence. He will face a full extradition hearing next month.
Asked if he would agree to be sent back to Poland, Kulig told the court: “I’d rather live in England.”
Raivo Gotovskis, 33
The controversial European Arrest Warrant system is not restricted to serious such as murder or robbery – it extends to matters which may not even be criminal offences in Britain.
Gotovskis faces a charge, under Latvian law, of “damaging trees”. The offence in fact relates to illegal tree felling – the defendant is accused of having cut down 1,000 trees in Latvia, worth £25,000, without a licence in a protected forest.
The court has heard that Gotovskis believed he had a licence to do the work at the time he carried it out, but he later discovered that the paperwork was fraudulent.
The Latvian authorities want him extradited to face justice, and issued a warrant. Since his arrest in the UK he has since spent a month in jail. Last week his case was adjourned until September 13 and he remains in custody.
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