Monday, July 16, 2007

Lugovoi Extradition: British Response

Today, the United Kingdom decided to take certain actions against Russia, following the Russian Government's refusal (discussed previously here) to extradite Andrei K. Lugovoi for the murder of Alexander V. Litvinenko. As expected, the British measures include the expulsion of some Russian diplomats. Speaking before the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary David Miliband explained:

. . . . Mr Speaker, given the seriousness of the crime and our ambitions for our bilateral relationship with Russia, Russia’s reply to the [UK's] extradition is extremely disappointing. It suggests that the Russian government has failed to register either how seriously we treat this case or the seriousness of the issues involved, despite lobbying at the highest level and clear explanations of our need for a satisfactory response. I think, Mr Speaker, that it is worth reiterating why this matters. . . . .

The facts Mr Speaker are therefore that a UK citizen has suffered a horrifying and lingering death. His murder put hundreds of others, residents and visitors, at risk of radiation contamination. And the UK Government has a wider duty to ensure the safety of the large Russian community living in the UK.

The Deputy Prosecutor General’s letter says that the Russian constitution currently bars extradition. The Russian authorities have given no indication of any willingness to work with us to address this. This situation is not unique, and other countries have amended their constitutions, for example to give effect to the European Arrest Warrant. Indeed, Russia wants the EU and UK to open their borders to free movement of people, goods and services, as part of an intensification of relations. This needs to be matched by an equal Russian commitment to cross-border judicial co-operation.

Since Mr Litvinenko’s death, the Government’s key priority has been to ensure the integrity of the legal process in order to secure justice for Mr Litvinenko. The Director of Public Prosecutions made clear that the allegations against Mr Lugovoy refer to a crime against a British citizen in London. The appropriate venue for the trial is therefore London. Moreover, both the UN and the EU have reported their concern that the law in Russia is applied selectively. There would, therefore, be grounds for a legal challenge over any attempt to accept a trial in Russia.

Given the importance of this issue, and Russia’s failure to co-operate to find a solution, we need an appropriate response. Our aims are clear: first to advance our judicial process, second to bring home to the Russian government the consequences of their failure to co-operate and third to emphasise our commitment to promoting the safety of British citizens and visitors.

I have therefore agreed with colleagues across Government the following steps. First, we will expel four diplomats from the Russian Embassy in London. Second, we shall review the extent of our co-operation with Russia on a range of issues and as an initial step we have suspended visa facilitation negotiations with Russia and made other changes to visa practice. Third, international agreements mean Mr Lugovoy could be extradited to the UK if he travelled abroad. Fourth, we are grateful for the strong support we have received from EU partners and close allies, including through the EU Presidency statement on 1 June. We will discuss with partners the need for future EU-Russia engagement to take our concerns on this case into account.

Expect the Russians to respond in kind.

Does all this mean that Lugovoi can relax? No. At some point in the future, Russia, like other countries (for example, Bulgaria and Romania), may amend its constitution to provide for the extradition of its own nationals. At that time, the U.K. could renew its extradition request. Further, Lugovoi will need to be very careful should he decide to take a trip outside of Russia. In all likelihood, the U.K. has requested that Interpol issue a red notice for him, which means that Lugovoi's entry into an Interpol member country should be reported immediately to U.K. authorities. Depending on the country's domestic law, the red notice (though not itself an arrest warrant) may be considered a request for provisional arrest pending a formal extradition request. Even if the country's domestic law doesn't so provide (U.S. law is an example), upon notice of Lugovoi's entry, U.K. authorities would very quickly submit a request for provisional arrest. Consequently, Lugovoi will want to travel only to countries that do not have an extradition relationship with the United Kingdom.