Crackdown on foreign national fugitives

Mon, Nov 21, 2011, 00:00

CHANGES TO the way the Garda force is searching for suspects wanted for crimes in other European countries have led to a widespread crackdown on foreign national fugitives living in the Republic.

The large increase recorded last year in the number of European extraditions executed, particularly relating to Polish suspects, has come about after the decentralisation of the Garda’s European arrest warrant arrangements.

Responsibility for finding and arresting suspects wanted by other EU countries has now been switched to local Garda divisions, where those suspects are believed to be living. The system had previously been controlled by the Garda extradition unit in Dublin.

The result has been a sudden increase in extraditions from the Republic to record levels far above any other period since the European arrest warrant came into operation in 2004.

Last year the numbers being extradited from the Republic more than doubled, from 69 suspects in 2009 to 161 in 2010.

The previous record was in 2008, when 73 people were extradited to EU member states where they were sought.

It means last year’s total is more than twice as high as the previous annual record. Of those extradited last year, 87 were sent to Poland compared to just 20 suspects being surrendered to that country the previous year.

Next in the list was the UK, with 34 suspects extradited from the Republic last year.

There were fewer extraditions to Lithuania (15), the Czech Republic (seven), Latvia (four), Romania (four), Slovakia (three) and the Netherlands (three).

The most common reason EU member states apply for the extradition of people living here is to answer charges of robbery, theft or assault. Others extradited faced much more serious charges including murder, sexual offences against children, drug trafficking, firearms offences and being members of organised crime gangs.

It had previously been believed that an increase in activity by the Polish authorities had resulted in much of the rise in extraditions from the Republic last year.

However, in response to queries from The Irish Times, Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter cited changes to Garda procedures, meaning local gardaí in divisions across the State now play a more central role in finding and arresting suspects wanted abroad.

He said general improvements to the legal system and a bedding down of the European arrest warrant process had been factors in the sharp rise in extraditions.

“The legal process has settled down and speeded up with courts and legal practitioners becoming more experienced with dealing with this process,” Mr Shatter added. “There has also been far fewer appeals.”

About half of those whose extradition is sought consent immediately. The remaining half resist their extraditions, necessitating court hearings.

The European Arrest Warrant Act provides for the arrest here of those sought for crimes in other EU member states and their surrender to those states, simplifying extradition procedures.