Extradition: appeal allowed in £11m VAT fraud request

The High Court has refused to extradite a woman to Poland to stand trial for offences of VAT carousel fraud in Poland, valued at over £11 million pounds.

Represented by Malcolm Hawkes, the Appellant, the sole carer of three young children, persuaded the court that her extradition would constitute a disproportionate interference with her and her children’s right to private and family life.

The court accepted fresh evidence of the devastating impact her extradition would have on her children – twins aged 6 and a three-year-old son – who faced a wholly uncertain future in the foster care system either in the UK or in Poland if she was extradited.

The Appellant also argued that the 3-year delay in bringing these proceedings, together with significant prospective delay before any trial would conclude would compound the interference with her Article 8 rights.

The Appellant was accused, along with 15 others, including her husband, a company director, of committing the offences. Her husband voluntarily returned to Poland in 2017 and has been held in prison ever since; the Polish courts repeatedly refused to permit him any contact, whatsoever with his wife and children.

However, as the trial of the co-accused was getting underway in Poland, in a highly unusual move, the trial court sent the case back to the prosecution for further investigation, citing numerous serious deficiencies in the preparation of the allegations. In its decision, the Polish court acknowledged the systemic delay in bringing cases to trial, as recognised by the European Court of Human Rights in the pilot judgment of Rutkowski v Poland. The Polish court commented that, in hurrying cases through the system to try to reduce the chronic judicial delay, the Polish prosecution service was failing properly to investigate and prepare its cases, ironically leading to yet more delay.

The finding by the District Judge that this Appellant should be extradited as the matter was ‘trial ready’ was no longer a tenable conclusion.

The High Court accepted that this Appellant has never sought to evade prosecution and had not fled to the UK to seek a safe haven from prosecution. Her repeated offers to be interviewed without being extradited and separated from her children were rebuffed by the Polish prosecution.

As found by the expert psychologist, Dr. Tom Grange, in an updating report, even a 3-month period of separation would cause the Appellant’s children devastating psychological harm with longer-term consequences, along with clear evidence of a risk of a serious deterioration in the Appellant’s mental health.

Notwithstanding the very high value of the alleged offending, the High Court agreed that the risk of harm to the Appellant’s children outweighed the public interest in upholding the request and quashed the order for her extradition.

In MM v Poland, Malcolm was instructed by Aneta Maziarz solicitors.