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A CASE brought against an English antiquities dealer by the Greek authorities has raised further concerns over European Arrest Warrants (EAW).

In a tale that is likely to send shivers down the spine of much of the trade – not just antiquities dealers – London-based Malcolm Hay told ATG how he had been unwittingly caught up in a case of stolen Greek artefacts simply by doing business with a regular customer, a registered antiques dealer based in Athens.

At the heart of the case is a dispute over the invoice he made out for the sale.

At one point Mr Hay was arrested at gunpoint at London’s City Airport and spent two days in custody before being taken before an extradition tribunal.

It is just one of several cases that has raised serious concerns over EAWs, which were introduced in 2004 to fast-track extraditions in the wake of the terrorist atrocities of the previous three years. The need for speed in such circumstances means that EAWs deliberately ignore human rights considerations – a factor that has sparked controversy and was the subject of much debate in parliament earlier this month.

Of particular concern – as in Mr Hay’s case – is that extradition can be demanded and enforced under an EAW without a scrap of evidence being put forward to support the charges.

Mr Hay’s story came to light as Horseferry Road Magistrates Court discharged him on January 9 when the Crown Prosecution Service failed to show that an EAW issued by the Greek courts seeking his extradition was valid.

Mr Hay told ATG how his tale of woe had its origins in a transaction that took place in London in July 1999. At the time he saw it as no more than simply the latest in a number of sales he had made over several years to the Athens dealer.

And he explained that it was not until Interpol contacted him in September 2000, asking for an interview regarding the transaction, that he was aware that anything might be wrong. He duly gave the interview, but, despite several attempts, never succeeded in obtaining a copy of the statement he gave.

Having no further formal contact with either the British or Greek authorities on the issue, Mr Hay told ATG how he believed that was the end of the matter. And for seven years it was.

But then he described how, on July 14, 2007, returning to London’s City Airport from abroad, he was told that there was a problem with his passport. It turned out to be a delaying tactic while the police were alerted. After an hour’s wait, officers armed with automatic weapons arrived and told Mr Hay that he was the subject of an EAW.

He was handcuffed and taken to Stratford police station where he was held for two days in the cells and then taken before an extradition tribunal.

It was only then that he learnt the true extent of what had been going on in the Athens courts and how he had become embroiled in the matter.

He is reluctant to discuss details of the case at the moment because it is still before the court in Athens, but at the heart of it is a dispute over whether the items he sold the Athens dealer are the same as those seized from her by the Greek authorities as suspected stolen artefacts.

Following his arrest and remand in custody, Mr Hay was released on £20,000 bail and spent the next six months fighting extradition in the English courts and simultaneously charges of theft in the Greek criminal court relating to the 1999 transaction.

His eventual discharge from the EAW in England came on January 9 after Horseferry Road Magistrates Court ruled that the Crown Prosecution Service had failed to clarify whether or not the EAW was valid because of the lack of a formal summons in the Greek courts.

Mr Hay was awarded costs on the spot but says the experience will still cost him several thousand pounds. And there is no compensation for unjust arrest, damage to reputation, stress and discomfort caused, and loss both of earnings and freedom to travel during the previous six months.

It is not just the lack of requirement to show prima facie evidence that makes EAWs an attractive option for states demanding the deportation of suspects; under European Union rules, the state requesting extradition bears none of the deportation costs nor the ongoing legal expenses. Instead those are paid by the extraditing state.

Mr Hay’s lawyers claim that the accusations against him were made in bad faith and largely with a view to obtaining his extradition, arguments that were never fully tested in the English court, as the Greek prosecutor had already conceded that the warrant was seriously flawed in other ways.

The most worrying aspect of the litigation was that, at an earlier hearing before the extradition tribunal, the court had ruled that, although Mr Hay had made every transaction in London, the Greek court could claim jurisdiction over the alleged crime.

The Greek prosecutor also alleged that Mr Hay had been active and present in Greece at a certain time in 1999 when Mr Hay was clear that he was never in Greece, and no evidence was presented that he had been. This accusation, however, rendered extradition far more sustainable in law.

Even the Greek counter-party in the transaction, who is accused with Mr Hay of theft, has stated in her evidence that the relevant sale and delivery took place in London.

The whole episode has shaken Mr Hay deeply.

“Under the Treaty Britain has signed in 2003, an EAW prevents the court here from investigating evidence and the precise nature of the accusation,” he explained to ATG. “The accused is treated straight away as a convict, and has no opportunity of demonstrating his innocence. The extradition tribunal has huge discretion, can and does disregard arguments relating to abuse of due legal process and bad faith on the part of requesting authorities.

“In the position such as I was in, at my arrest, you need good lawyers and money, and both quickly. Otherwise you do not stand a chance. Such is the climate of Blair’s modern Britain.”

By Ivan Macquisten