Bungle lets bank fraudster go free

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The Independent Online
The man at the centre of Britain's biggest banking fraud is set to walk free from Brixton jail today after the Home Office bungled his extradition to the United States on corruption charges.

In the latest court humiliation for Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, the High Court ruled yesterday that Syed Ziauddin Ali Akbar had spent too long awaiting extradition since his arrest in September last year. "The time has come to say enough is enough. He is discharged from custody forthwith," Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Maurice Kay, said. Mr Akbar has served an 18-month sentence for conspiring to launder drug money and was given six years on 16 counts of false accounting for his part in the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

The US authorities have until 10.30am today to decide whether to seek to appeal against the decision.

Under extradition rules a person under detention can after two months apply to the High Court for release, which must be granted unless the UK authorities can show "sufficient cause to the contrary". Lord Justice Rose said he was "wholly unpersuaded" that the Home Office had shown sufficient cause.

After Mr Akbar's arrest it had been "incumbent upon the Home Office to take sufficient steps to extradite him", but for half that time it did nothing. The judge said he recognised the seriousness of the allegations Mr Akbar, 50, faced in the US, including blackmail, but that was only more reason to get on with the case.

The court rebuff has the embarrassing consequence that the US may now have to wait years for a new application to be completed before Mr Akbar can be brought to justice in America. It is the latest in a string of adverse legal judgments against the Home Secretary across a range of immigration and law-and-order issues.

The problem began when Mr Akbar was released on parole in 1991 during his 18-month sentence and fled to France, which later extradited him to Britain to face the BCCI charges.

The US wanted him extradited to face a charge that he had accepted a $15m (pounds 9m) bribe from BCCI "as his price for not disclosing to a US senator details of corruption". But the French authorities blocked the move because they had only agreed to his extradition to Britain on money-laundering charges. A lengthy exchange over procedural points then took place between the two countries.