More than three months after a Russian whistleblower at the centre of a corruption scandal involving Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, handed herself in to police in Athens after Maltese authorities issued a European arrest warrant (EAW) for her arrest in November of last year, the issue over the legal and moral validity of EAWs has come to the forefront after Ireland’s High Court postponed the extradition of a suspected Polish drug trafficker back to his native over concerns of government interference in the Polish judiciary.
The current case involves Artur Celmer, a 31-year-old Pole sought by the Polish authorities over alleged drugs trafficking offences that dated over a decade. He was arrested and jailed in Dublin pending an extradition request by Poland via the European Arrest Warrant. The Irish High Court, however, ruled that Poland’s right-wing government was undermining the independence of the country’s judiciary, which could lead to Celmer being denied a fair trial and further undermining of issuing EAWs.
The European Arrest Warrant System has already come into question following attempts by Romania’s anti-corruption bureau and the country’s SRI security services – the successor to the feared Nicolae Ceaușescu-era Securitate – which has abused the EAW system by using it to blackmail Romanian citizens who live outside of the country. Both the SRI and the anti-corruption bureau have reportedly fabricated evidence against these individuals and later claim that the cases have the backing of the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigations – a position that no government official in Washington or the FBI have ever endorsed, nor have they ever professed to have had any knowledge of the charges against the individuals that the SRI is attempting to prosecute.
Curiously, an overwhelming number of these charges have been brought up against successful businessmen who are seen by the old-guard of the Communist-era Securitate as a major obstacle to their goal of re-establishing power nearly 30 years after they were sidelined by the revolution that led to the overthrew and execution of their former boss, Ceaușescu.
This situation was able to develop due to the series of secret protocols that were signed by the SRI, the prosecutor general, and Romania’s judiciary, which gave the SRI the authority to effectively take over or independently launch investigations under their own authority and with the full endorsement of the country’s justice institutions.
The EAWs in Romania have been requested under the auspices of these secret protocols, which are in direct violation of European law and more closely resemble the corrupt practices of Russia’s FSB and Ukraine’s SBU – both direct successors of the Soviet-era KGB.
Celmer’s case closely resembles that of Maria Efimova, the Russian-national who claimed a private bank – Pilatus – where she worked had been used to move funds for Maltese politicians and the children of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.
After the Maltese authorities issued a warrant for Efimova’s arrest, Cyprus, where Efimova had lived and worked four years ago, followed suit with its own EAW on allegations that Efimova had defrauded her employer.
The arrest warrants came after Efimova and her family fled Malta after her claims were first reported by Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist who was assassinated by a car bomb last October for her reporting on the money laundering schemes carried out by Pilatus and to whom Efimova had given revealing information concerning the financial scandals and their connections to the Maltese government.
Prior to her death, Galizia had named Efimova as the source of internal bank documents which the former claimed indicated Michelle Muscat, the wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, owned a secret company in Panama.
Efimova fled Malta for Greece, where she took up residence with her family on the island of Crete. She handed herself into Greek authorities in March and awaited a decision as to whether or not Athens would comply with the EAW request and extradite her back to Malta, where she would face prosecution and a lengthy jail sentence.
Earlier this month, Greece’s Supreme Court, however, blocked any potential moves to extradite Efimova, despite the Maltese government’s two failed attempts to have her sent back to the Mediterranean Island to stand trial. In its ruling, the Supreme Court backed an April decision by a lower court, which said Malta’s extradition request was “vague and irregular”.
Both cases involving Celmer and Efimova shed light on a growing trend in Europe – that certain governments are attempting to circumvent legal norms by manipulating the EAW process for their own self-interests. These often include going to great lengths to jail or muzzle individuals who the governments in question consider either hostile or a threat to their position of power.
By offering often opaque and often obviously fabricated justifications for prosecuting individuals such as Efimova, or by interfering in the independent legal processes of their own judiciaries, these governments raise further questions about the validity of the EAW system and whether it is serving its intended purpose, or being used as a political tool to smear those who are trying to stand up for the fundamental European rights of the rule-of-law and due process.