Extra-judicial rendition and the limits of extradition

Whether it’s being led across an airstrip in handcuffs and Bermuda shorts and onto an American chartered jet or bundled onto a boat for a short trip across the Caribbean, states can go extraordinary lengths in order to catch fugitives overseas. `stories of extra-judicial renditions across borders, which often take place on the other side of the world, can border on the unbelievable before they cross into the illegal. 

As the world becomes ever more interconnected, international law and policing have struggled to keep up with increased mobility and the ease of operating from different locations. With differing legal systems and processes, it is no longer a straightforward exercise to assess whether someone wanted for a crime in one country should be granted sanctuary in another, or returned to face trial.  

Created to bring overseas fugitives to justice, extradition treaties are how most of these situations are dealt with. They establish an agreement between parties while outlining the particulars of future extraditions. Ranging from bilateral treaties between two countries to multilateral treaties enforced by an international organization, these treaties are a form of international law. Treaties create a judicial process, often with rights of appeal, and a framework outlining how cases are assessed. 

In many cases, however, because of different legal systems, political differences, or concerns over human rights, no such treaties exist. With no established legal framework between two nations, requests for extraditions are often assessed according to individual countries’ legal systems. For high-stakes requests from powerful nations, the temptation for governments to overreach their powers is strong, which leads to stories of renditions that have more in common with kidnappings than an extradition process. 

Two colorful stories in the news recently raised some interesting questions. The stories of Inigo Philbrick and Mehul Choksi, both facing trial in the US and India respectively, read like Hollywood movie scripts. Both individuals faced charges of fraud while living overseas. 

Although the particulars and stages of their cases vary, both individuals were sought as fugitives by their home countries. Living in states that did not have an extradition treaty with the requesting country, they found themselves at the mercy of the local legal system. 

Choksi’s story is a case in point. Born in India, Choksi is a businessman with investments across the globe and is now a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda. Facing charges of fraud, the Indian government requested the extradition of Choksi. Antigua and Barbuda both have extradition treaties with India, via the Extradition Act of 1993, giving Choksi a legal process to contest his extradition. 

As the extradition hearings were progressing, however, the case took a dramatic turn. Choksi was arrested on the shorefront in Dominica, another Caribbean island over 120 miles away. How he got there is a matter of dispute. The authorities in both Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda argue that Choksi deliberately escaped from Antigua on a boat rather than proceed with the extradition hearings.

However, mounting voices from the Caribbean nations, India and the UK point to evidence that Choksi was in fact abducted and illegally transported to Dominica on a pleasure yacht, where he fears he will face an arbitrary process instead of a fair trial. He argues that as a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, he had much greater rights than he would in Dominica, where he is at the mercy of the local justice system. 

Today, Choksi is requesting to be sent back to Antigua, his adopted country, to continue extradition proceedings there. Instead, though, he will face a trial in Dominica to prove that he was indeed kidnapped from the country where he is a citizen, at India’s request.  If he does so, it will be a major embarrassment for the governments of Antigua and Barbuda as well as Dominica, due to the fact that they carried out serious civil rights abuses at the request of a foreign country. Choksi has been photographed with severe injuries, which his defense team adamantly claim were sustained through beatings and torure during his abduction and illegal rendition. 

Opposition parties in Dominica have already asked Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit difficult questions about his alleged role in the case, saying “it is a crime against humanity to violently remove Mr Choksi from his constitutional rights and rule of law protection in one part of the ECSC jurisdiction to another part for the benefit of those who want to short-circuit the extradition proceedings for his return to India.”

The case of Inigo Philbrick is one of a dramatic fall from grace which also involved rendition at the request of a more powerful nation. Facing allegations of defrauding his wealthy and powerful clients of potentially millions of dollars, Philbrick disappeared from Miami, prompting an international effort to track him down. Philbrick eventually resurfaced in Vanuatu, a country without an extradition treaty with the US, presumably believing he could remain there in safety.  

In reality, however, the net was closing in on him. Philbrick had been identified by American authorities, who were then apparently given permission to arrest Philbrick. In dramatic scenes, Philbrick was apprehended by US Marshalls, handcuffed and led straight onto a waiting plane. Instagram pictures from his partner show Philbrick boarding a plane still in his T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, facing an uncertain future. Philbrick’s arrest was a sharp lesson that in the absence of formal laws and treaties, more often than not a super-power will get its own way.  

Whatever the outcome of both of these cases, they show that when nation states operate outside of the framework of extradition treaties, they are very far from safe havens for individuals facing serious charges. The extraordinary stories show that legal troubles can follow people around the world, with or without treaties. If the allegations are true, they also show that powerful states can use extraordinary means to get their man. 

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