Western fugitives hide in Russia during the war


A few weeks later, he was arrested at his hotel in Bulgaria where he’d been attending a conference.
“It was pretty horrible,” Hower told Al Jazeera from St Petersburg, Russia.
The Russian government interviewed me many times and made me submit all the legal documents, including court cases from multiple countries.
In 2007, Moscow refused to surrender Andrei Lugovoi, an ex-KGB agent accused of fatally poisoning dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London.
“What has changed is that most international treaties do not work,” said a Russian human rights lawyer who specialises in extradition cases and requested not to be named.
“Extradition to unfriendly countries is not carried out, especially if those being extradited express loyalty to the current Russian government.
And they [fugitives] can feel safe as long as they do not become a bargaining chip [between governments].”The stonewalling goes both ways.
Last year, Russia complained that more than 100 of its extradition requests to EU countries in 2022-23 had been denied.
Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have similarly signalled they would not deliver fugitives to Russia.
“They gave me asylum and they’ve never given anyone up that had asylum, and everyone that they gave up wanted to go anyways,” he said.

Ever since the war in Ukraine started, Moscow has essentially stopped assisting its neighbors to the west with extradition requests.

It’s wanted on Chad Hower.

The American software developer was charged with federal offenses related to kidnapping of parents in 2009.

In violation of his ex-wife’s custody order, he was accused of neglecting to show up for a court hearing in Venango County, Pennsylvania, in the United States, along with his 10-year-old son, Alex. Hower maintains his innocence and claims to have had legal custody to this day.

A few weeks later, while attending a conference at his hotel in Bulgaria, he was taken into custody.

Hower said to Al Jazeera from St. Petersburg, Russia, “It was pretty horrible.”. “I spent five different prison stays in Bulgaria: the rooms were overcrowded with four inmates each, there was no heat, and there were a ton of roaches. “.

Hower was eventually freed since parental abduction is not considered a crime in Bulgaria. He relocated to Saint Kitts, a tiny Caribbean island, where Alex soon followed.

However, he remained evasive. His health declined, and he was unable to access his bank accounts. Thus, he traveled to Russia in 2023 via Cuba and was given asylum there.

He claimed, “I was dying because our tiny island’s medical facilities weren’t good enough.”.

Russia and Cuba kept me alive. I was required to submit all legal documents, including court cases from several nations, and I was subjected to numerous interviews by the Russian government. They decided to offer me protection after looking into it. For Westerners, such protection is extremely uncommon. “.

According to Hower’s conjectures, the US government is pursuing him in an effort to use his connections in Russia and other places to turn him into an informant. These claims could not be independently verified by Al Jazeera.

Hower is not the only foreign wanted person in Russia.

For his part in arranging two shipments of cocaine from Brazil into the Belgian port of Antwerp, totaling 1 point three tonnes, Dutch football player Quincy Promes was sentenced to six years in prison in February.

The sports celebrity also received an additional 18 months in prison for stabbing his cousin in the knee during an inebriated celebration.

However, Promes has been the highest-scoring foreign player in Russian football history during the entire legal process, so the convictions have only been granted in absentia thus far.

Under the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, Russia and the EU could exchange suspected criminals, and Moscow used to comply with these requests.

2013 saw the handcuffing and transfer of Vitalie Proca, a Moldovan gangland hitman suspected of being responsible for shootings in Bucharest and London, to Moscow where he was scheduled to face trial in Romania.

Despite lacking a formal extradition treaty with Washington, Moscow deported Joshua Samuel Aaron, a suspected cyber scammer, back to the United States in 2016, where he was apprehended right away.

Most importantly, when they were turned over, neither of these people had a Russian passport.

Russia cannot extradite its own citizens, as is prohibited by the constitution, just like in France and Lebanon.

The dissident Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned to death in London in 2007 by Andrei Lugovoi, an ex-KGB agent, but Moscow refused to turn him over.

Businessman Semion Mogilevich, who is thought to live in Moscow and was born in Ukraine, is also exempt from extradition even though he was previously listed as one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted for a suspected high-value stock exchange scam. Although Mogilevich is no longer among the Top Ten, the FBI is still looking for him.

But if they give the authorities trouble, foreign-born fugitives might lose this coveted status.

The Russian Ministry of the Interior removed Georgian-born crime lord Tariel Oniani’s citizenship in 2018 out of fear of a gang war. He was extradited to Spain, where he was imprisoned for his involvement in organized crime.

However, since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, all of this cooperation has all but stopped with its neighbors to the west.

“The majority of international treaties no longer hold true,” stated a Russian human rights attorney with expertise in extradition matters who wished to remain anonymous.

It is not done to extradite people to hostile nations, particularly if they have pledged allegiance to the Russian government as it stands at this time. Furthermore, as long as they do not turn into a negotiating chip between governments, they [fugitives] can feel safe. “.

Stonewalling occurs on both ends.

Russian complaints about the denial of over 100 requests for extradition to EU countries in 2022–2023 were made last year.

Russia has responded by accusing the organization of misusing Interpol’s Red Notice system to target opponents of the Kremlin or people who have crossed paths with influential people.

In a drug case involving Moscow, a Belarusian woman was detained on that country’s behalf last year, and an Italian court ordered the police to free her right away. The woman, who claimed to be a victim of political persecution, was accepted by the court despite the lack of supporting documentation, demonstrating the public’s mistrust of Russia’s legal system.

Similar signals have been made by other nations, like the United Kingdom, that they would not send fugitives to Russia.

However, not much has changed in decades on that front, according to Ben Keith, a British barrister who specializes in extradition cases.

“We have listened to all of the Russians’ requests and have cooperated with them in that regard, but only one extradition to Russia has been successful, and that was actually a client of mine in 2017 for a straightforward robbery in Irkutsk,” Keith told Al Jazeera.

“And the reason for that is that most of the requests that the Russians make to Interpol are driven by politics—corporate raiding, for example—or the fact that their detention conditions are appalling. For twenty years, they have taken no action in that regard. “.

Although Keith acknowledged that there was a chance of harboring dangerous criminals, he added, “you don’t want someone imprisoned over false accusations.”.

Promes is a football player who trains as a privileged resident in Dubai. On March 1, he was taken into custody for an alleged hit-and-run incident in Dubai. Reportedly, the Dutch government plans to use his situation as leverage to demand his return.

But Hower feels secure.

“They granted me asylum, and they have never refused to give it to anyone else; everyone they did refuse wanted to leave anyhow,” he remarked.

“I’m receiving all of the necessary medical attention. It is such a relief, especially since I was dying there in Saint Kitts and in excruciating pain. My favorite city on earth is St. Petersburg, where I am right now. It’s great to live in Russia. “.

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