If you were on the run from the law, where would you go? Former CIA employee Edward Snowden chose Hong Kong after leaking information on NSA surveillance programs. On Wednesday he said he was not hiding from the U.S., but that he did plan to fight extradition back to the U.S. Is Hong Kong a good place to fight extradition? What is?
Countries That Don’t Extradite and Do Offer Asylum
The U.S. has extradition treaties with many countries in the world, but not all, making them potentially good places to hide out from U.S. law. Countries that have diplomatic ties to the U.S. but no formal extradition treaty include China, Russia, most African countries, and many countries in the Middle East. (Hong Kong does have a bilateral extradition treaty with the U.S.) These countries are not duty-bound to fulfill any requests for extradition, but they may do so in order to maintain good relations with the U.S. Even better for the fugitive are countries that have no diplomatic ties to the U.S. as well as no active extradition treaty, including Iran, North Korea, and Cuba.
Political asylum is an option for someone with a history or fear of persecution on the grounds of nationality, race, religion, or political beliefs. Someone fleeing the U.S. for criminal reasons is not eligible for political asylum. It’s available even in countries that have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
The right to political asylum (different from diplomatic asylum) is available in countries that have signed the United Nations Conventions Relating to the Status of Refugees. Cuba, Guyana, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, India and several other South Asian states have not signed the UN Convention, but may take in refugees on their own terms.
Famous Cases of Fleeing to Europe, Iran, Central and South America
Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, a website with classified and leaked information. After leaking information on the U.S. military in 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice was interested in prosecuting Assange, and his home country of Australia did not object to the U.S.’s desire for extradition. England wants to extradite Assange to Sweden, where he’s wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case. His appeal against the European Arrest Warrant out for him was dismissed, and since June 2010 he has been inside the U.K.’s Ecuadorian embassy, where he was granted diplomatic asylum.
Filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested on charges in 1977 for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl. He accepted a plea bargain but, fearing he’d face imprisonment, he fled to France shortly before he was formally sentenced.France did not extradite him to the U.S. – like many countries, France does not extradite its own citizens, and Polanski was born in France. The U.S. has had an international warrant out for him since 2005. In 2009, Polanski was detained in Switzerland at the request of the U.S. Switzerland ultimately released Polanski from custody.
Financier Robert Vesco is mainly known for his fugitive lifestyle. He fled to Costa Rica in 1973, expecting criminal charges in connection with his work at investment firm Investors Overseas Services. He also lived in Nassau, Antigua, and Nicaragua, and in 1978 attempted to purchase the island Barbuda to make it a sovereign state, but was denied. Cuba accepted him in 1982 provided he was no longer involved in finances. He was arrested in 1995 for attempting to defraud Raúl Castro (Fidel Castro’s brother) and Richard Nixon’s nephew Donald A. Nixon. Vesco went to prison in 1996, and died in 2007 before completing his 13-year sentence.
Other high-profile cases include David Belfield, a U.S. citizen and convert to Islam who shot and killed an Iranian dissident in 1980 and then fled to Iran, and Marc Rich, who fled to Switzerland in 1983 after being indicted on charges of tax evasion and trading with Iran. Rich was pardoned in 2001 by President Clinton on his last day in office.
If you’re in a situation where you need advice on matters of extradition, contact us