Saturday, September 20, 2008

Poles and other EU criminals flock to Scottish haven

Extraditions from Scotland to EU nations have increased 10-fold since 2003, soaring from just six cases to 60 already this year.

Fugitives wanted in their home countries for offences ranging from embezzlement and theft to rape have targeted Scotland, attracted by existing immigrant communities as well as the remote geography.

Almost half of the extraditions are to eastern European states admitted after EU expansion in 2004, and Poles make up approximately a third of the total.

David Dickson, the deputy head of the Crown Office department responsible for extraditions, said: "We have been averaging at two or three a week this summer. About 30% of them are for people from Poland."

Based on population, Scotland is attracting more fleeing EU criminals than England. Scotland accounts for 9% of the UK population but gets 15% of the UK's extradition requests.

Dickson said: "Perhaps people think that somewhere like Scotland they have the chance to escape the long arm of the law. Well, they're wrong."

The case of Polish migrant worker Robert Labutin is typical. For two years he hid in Edinburgh with a job, girlfriend, baby, council house, bank loan and a sick mother to look after. But the 30-year-old was also a fugitive and should have been serving a two-year sentence in his native Poland for drug-dealing.

He was also wanted in his home town of Koszalin, in the country's north-west, on an allegation that, along with another party, he used threats to force a child to have sex. If found guilty, he will face up to 15 years in jail.

Labutin, who lived in Bo'ness, was last month ordered to be extradited to Poland. He had, Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard last month, been "unlawfully at large" in the country.

Like Labutin, many fugitives simply fail to do enough to hide their identities. Labutin even rented his council house in his own name.

Polish authorities last year sought more than 250 fugitives in England and Wales alone. As many as one in 20 of them had been in trouble in the UK before they were caught. At one point there were so many people awaiting to be extradited that the Polish government sent a charter plane to pick them up.