Rayshum Khan, of Ronald Fletcher Baker’s Criminal Litigation Department, discusses a new agreement between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates and looks into the effect it could have on extradition treaties between the two countries.
On September 16 2021 the UK and the UAE signed a new deal with the aim of working together to tackle the unlawful flow of money that fuels organised crime.
This agreement is the first of its kind and ministers are anticipating that it will raise the professional standards of officials involved in confronting the laundering of criminal profits through precious stones, property and cryptocurrencies.
The deal was signed by the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and UAE Minister of State Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh who have agreed to meet annually to assess the effectiveness of this programme and to ensure progress towards the objective.
There is a pledge to improve intelligence-sharing and the deal will rely on investment in better systems which analyse and act on evidence provided by banks regarding illicit deals. The deal will also call for stronger criminal sanctions and accountability for bankers and those involved in moving illicit cash through the international system.
Ms Patel is optimistic that “the partnership will help to keep the public safe, protect our prosperity and bring dangerous criminals to justice”.
This begs the question: what does it mean for criminals hiding in either country?
Is the UAE considered to be a sanctuary for criminals?
A recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace gave the opinion that Dubai particularly has a reputation for being a destination of choice for criminal operations, investments and residence.
This is fathomable considering the investment opportunities aimed at foreigners in industries such as the property market and the gold trade.
Extradition and international assistance from the UAE
The Extradition Treaty between the UK and the UAE came into force in 2008 and since then there have been a number of high profile cases that have drawn attention to the procedures involved in extraditing individuals.
A recent example is that of Leon Cullen, who fled to the UAE in 2018. Cullen was a notorious drug boss fugitive, earning £300,000 per month from his cocaine empire. He was arrested in the UAE in January 2020 and extradited to the UK in February 2021. In May 2021 he was sentenced to 22 year custodial sentence at Liverpool Crown Court.
However, there are many concerns that the UAE will extradite people where it is politically corrupt. For example in 2018, Christian Michel was accused of paying bribes to help Augusta Westland, a helicopter manufacturer based in Somerset, to win a contract worth more than $500 million.
Michel was extradited from the UAE to India as a ‘de facto swap’ for Princess Latifa bint Mohammed Al-Maktoum who is infamously associated as Dubai’s ‘missing princess’.
The princess was captured on a yacht off the coast of Goa as she was attempting to escape her father and flee the UAE in March 2018. She was detained by the Indian Authorities, drugged, and returned to Dubai.
Extradition to the UAE
The UAE is infamous for its overuse of Interpol Red Notices against individuals with outstanding debt. Despite the UAE’s engagement with Interpol to seek the return of individuals, the UAE has side-stepped such formalities in the notorious cases of its two princesses.
The first being Princess Shamsa, who fled her family only to be kidnapped in Cambridge in 2000 and forcibly returned to the UAE. Secondly, the case of her sister Princess Latifa as outlined above. Remarkably, while the UK has expressed some concern over these incidents, it has been said that this has not affected the deep and historic relations that these two countries share.
Extradition from the UK to the UAE
In contrast, the UK courts have hesitated in extraditing individuals to the UAE. Extradition has been refused on many occasions and there are many human rights concerns regarding the requested person if they are extradited.
Explicitly, Article 3 (torture/inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and Article 6 (right to a fair trial) have been successfully argued.
This was exasperated following the case of Lodhi v Secretary of State for the Home Department in 2010, whereby construction tycoon Mohammed Lodhi was one of 24 defendants charged with a serious drug conspiracy in the UAE in 1997.
Mr Lodhi fled the UAE and when he arrived in the UK he was immediately arrested and told he would be returned. The defendant maintained that he had been framed because of business rivalries between the UAE’s most powerful families, and that he would face torture in prison there.
It must be repeated that although the UAE has an extradition agreement with the UK, it remains one of a handful of countries not to have signed the UN Convention Against Torture. After a decade of resisting extradition, Mr Lodhi unfortunately passed away (from natural causes) six weeks before the judgement was set to take place, although his family believed that he had been suffering from enormous stress in the run-up to the judgement.
The High Court ruled that Mr Lodhi would have been allowed to stay in the UK, had he lived. Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Ousley ruled that there was a real risk that Mr Lodhi would have been tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment had he been extradited as requested.
At such contested hearings, courts have also benefited from the traumatic accounts given by individuals who have experienced custody and the trial process in the UAE.
The UK has criticised the UAE for its relative lack of engagement in the extradition process, issuing poor assurances in relation to prison conditions or fair trial safeguards.
Additionally, the US State Department Report for 2008 on Human Rights in the UAE revealed that in the same year a Dubai Court sentenced 25 jail wardens and a former prison director of Dubai Central Detention Facility to three- to six-month prison terms for abusing their authority and beating inmates.
Amongst these allegations, one warden reportedly beat an Armenian inmate, leaving him with a spinal injury that led to permanent disability. The defendants appealed the ruling, and the Dubai Court of Appeal suspended the sentences.
The partnership and the impact on extradition
One would query that it seems odd the UK has formed such a partnership with the UAE considering its poor human rights record and irregular rule of law, but perhaps this is evidence of an attempt to use a logical approach and close the net on those who have committed crimes in the UK and are hiding themselves or their funds in the UAE.
However, the partnership is merely a political agreement, and this will not change the law as applied by courts in the UK.
There are continuing significant concerns about the human rights of those accused or detained in the UAE with no sign that the situation is improving, and it is unlikely that the UK courts will change their position any time in the near future.