Appeal judges refuse extradition of top Romanian businessman who suffered ‘flagrantly unfair’ trial

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An order for the extradition of Gabriel Popoviciu (pictured), a high-profile Romanian businessman, from the UK to Romania has been quashed. The High Court in London described Popoviciu’s case as “extraordinary”, writes Martin Banks.

The Court found that there was credible evidence to show that the trial judge who convicted Popoviciu in Romania – whilst holding judicial office, and over a number of years – corruptly assisted “underworld” businessmen with their legal matters. In particular, the trial judge had provided “improper and corrupt assistance” to the complainant, and chief prosecution witness in Popoviciu’s case, including the soliciting and receiving of bribes.

The trial judge’s failure to disclose his pre-existing corrupt relationship with the complainant – and the Romanian authorities’ failure properly to investigate this link – were of central, damning importance.

The Court therefore concluded that Popoviciu was not tried by an impartial tribunal and that he had “suffered a complete denial” of his fair trial rights as protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court further concluded that the serving of a prison sentence based on an improper conviction would be “arbitrary” and that extraditing Popoviciu would consequently represent a “flagrant denial” of his right to liberty as protected by Article 5 of the European Convention.

The Court accordingly quashed the order for extradition and allowed the appeal.

This is the first time that the High Court has concluded that extradition to an EU Member State represents a real risk of a “flagrant denial” of a requested person’s Convention rights.

As leading British legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg explained, since 2004, the European arrest warrant has allowed fast-track extradition between members of the EU. Mutual recognition is based on the understanding that each EU state can trust the judicial processes of every other member state.

Rozenberg went on to say: “It’s easy to say that if this is the standard of justice in a country that has been an EU member since 2007, the UK is better off without the European arrest warrant. On the other hand Popoviciu’s extradition (strictly speaking, “surrender”) was ordered before the UK left the EU and the appeal result would have been the same regardless of Brexit.”

He added: “The real lesson of this case is a more chastening one: you don’t have to travel far to find judicial behaviour that would be unthinkable in the UK. It should also be unthinkable in the EU.”

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