ETA suspect Eneko Gogeaskoetxea Arronategui loses extradition battle


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The Independent Online

A suspected Basque terrorist has lost his High Court bid to halt his extradition to Spain to stand trial for terror-related offences - including the attempted assassination of the king of Spain.

Two senior judges overturned a magistrates court decision that had blocked Eneko Gogeaskoetxea Arronategui, 44, being extradited on the specific charge of attempting to kill King Juan Carlos in 1997.

Deputy Senior District Judge Daphne Wickham, sitting at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, ruled at a hearing in January that he could be extradited on a series of terror charges, but not on the attempted assassination charge after she accepted a defence submission that it was unsustainable in Spanish law.

But today Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Griffith Williams ruled that extradition could take place on all charges.

Mr Justice Griffith Williams said: "The district judge should not have concerned herself with the issue of whether the appellant could be convicted in Spain of the offence of attempted assassination and so her decision must be quashed."

Gogeaskoetxea's QC Edward Fitzgerald told the High Court at a hearing last month that his client faced a real risk of "a flagrant denial of justice" in Spain because the accusations against him were based on the confessions of a co-defendant denied proper access to a lawyer.

Gogeaskoetxea, an alleged member of the terrorist group Eta, is wanted on eight arrest warrants.

They include a series of charges such as placing grenade-launchers aimed at Madrid Barajas Airport and a police station in Spain.

Judge Wickham ruled he could be extradited on those charges but not for attempted assassination or three offences of theft of vehicles.

Today the High Court quashed her decision relating to the assassination attempt and vehicle thefts, but upheld her decision to allow extradition for the other offences.

Mr Justice Griffith Williams said: "There are no bars to the extradition of the appellant to Spain and such (extradition) orders would not be incompatible with his human rights under section 21 of the 1998 Human Rights Act."

The case is important because, under the international rule of specialty, a country that requests extradition is allowed to prosecute a fugitive only for the crimes for which an extradition order is granted.

Mr Fitzgerald argued that Gogeaskoetxea's removal should be blocked because the Spanish authorities had in recent years violated the rule of specialty in terrorism cases.

Gogeaskoetxea, a computer program designer, was arrested in Cambridge last July after a Spanish national recognised him at a sports club in the city.

He is alleged to have become a member of Eta in 1996 and then to have become a party to a plan to kill the King of Spain who was due to attend the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao on October 18 1997.

Westminster Magistrates' Court was told that the alleged offences detailed his activities up to five days before the King's scheduled visit.

Gogeaskoetxea and others were stopped by police while filling window boxes with explosives, the court heard.

During the course of their getaway, a police officer, Jose Maria Aguirre Larraona, was shot dead, said Julian Knowles QC, representing the National High Court of Madrid.

Mr Knowles argued that Spain was a contracting party to the European Convention on Human Rights and should be presumed capable of protecting the rights of those under its control.

He also accused Judge Wickham of "misunderstanding" the nature of the charge of attempted assassination and argued that it should be reinstated in the extradition order.

Allowing the Spanish challenge, Mr Justice Griffith Williams said the "invitation" to Judge Wickham to examine the evidence to be relied upon in Spain, and to consider matters of Spanish law, was contrary to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system under which extradition was being sought.

He ruled: "It must be for the Spanish court to decide whether the charge of attempted assassination has been proved by the evidence and if not, whether an alternative charge to one of the offences within the European (EAW) Framework List identified in the warrant has been so proved."

Lord Justice Laws said he agreed.