STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s Supreme Court blocked the extradition of a former Chinese official wanted by Beijing on suspicion of embezzlement, ruling on Tuesday that he could face persecution if sent back to China.
While there was reasonable suspicion Qiao Jianjun had committed crimes in China, there was a risk he would be persecuted because of his political activity and treated in violation of the European Convention, the court ruled.
“Under these conditions, extradition cannot take place,” Justice Council Petter Asp said in a statement.
Court documents seen by Reuters showed that Qiao stated that he had fled from China in 2011 after coming under pressure for joining a banned political party.
China had asked Sweden to extradite Qiao, also known as Feng Li, on suspicion of breach of trust and fraud relating to the embezzlement of the equivalent of about 100 million Swedish crowns ($11 million).
He has also been charged with money laundering and immigration fraud in the United States, which is also seeking his extradition.
“Now we have a precedent, that the court has found that China’s handling of the juridical system and human rights is appalling and cannot be accepted, at least not by a Swedish court,” Henrik Olsson Lilja, Qiao’s lawyer, told Reuters.
“China cannot appeal this decision. There will be no extradition from Sweden.”
Qiao was arrested in Sweden in June last year under the Chinese extradition request. He was released last month, then re-arrested days later under the U.S. request.
The European Convention and Swedish law both bar authorities from extraditing people to countries where they would face political or religious persecution, torture or the death penalty.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China hoped Sweden could “face squarely the facts of Qiao Jianjun’s crimes” and extradite him back to China as soon as possible and avoid becoming a “haven for criminals”.
China paid great attention to the protection of human rights, especially those of criminal suspects, Geng told a daily news briefing.
China has already had extradited back to it more than 260 suspects from European, Asian, African and Latin American countries, which shows the international community’s confidence in its legal system, he added.
“I again urge Sweden to acknowledge China’s demands,” Geng said.
Lilja said the U.S. case remained open, with the United States having until Aug. 2 to say why it wants Qiao extradited.
Qiao has been living in Sweden since 2013 and applied for asylum in March. A decision is pending.
($1 = 9.4678 Swedish crowns)
Reporting by Esha Vaish and Helena Soderpalm in Stockholm and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel