UK companies fear unfair extraditions

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UK companies and shareholders are becoming increasingly concerned that unstable countries such as Russia, Moldova and Azerbaijan could use legal powers to extradite British executives over white-collar crime allegations. They are worried that those sent abroad will not face a fair trial.

These countries are among over 40, including the US, which do not need to provide prima facie evidence to support their extradition applications under the UK's Extradition Act 2003.

The issue has been highlighted by the US's extradition of the "NatWest Three" last month over fraud charges.

A Home Office spokeswoman said there had been just under 40 such applications by countries besides the US, five of them involving fraud, since the Act came into force at the beginning of 2004.

But Peter Watson, the senior litigation partner at law firm Allen & Overy, said he had recently been inundated with calls from worried companies in the UK about their exposure to possible extradition requests. These firms were also under pressure from shareholders who wanted to know how they were mitigating such risks.

"The concern for companies is that it may be hard to tell what is permissible in some countries one day and not permissible the next," said Mr Watson. He added that several UK clients had found themselves unwittingly caught up in alleged crimes overseas due to regime changes in Central and Eastern Europe.

Rod Armitage, the CBI's head of company affairs, described the situation as "deeply worrying", adding: "In countries like Russia and Moldova, prosecution is under a vastly different system to that of the UK."

Peter Montagnon, the director of investment affairs at the Association of British Insurers, said the industry group was "looking closely" into the issue. "Our members are telling us they are concerned."