The EU’s top court has ruled that member states are not obligated to grant other EU citizens the same level of protection from extradition that is afforded to its own citizens.
In a judgement on a case involving an Estonian national arrested in Latvia and subject to an extradition order by Russia, the European Court of Justice ruled that Latvia’s decision to comply with Russia’s request did not contravene the principles of non-discrimination.
Aleksei Petruhhin was arrested on 30 September 2014 in Latvia. Whilst in custody, Russia informed the Baltic state that Petruhhin was the subject of criminal proceedings brought against the Estonian on alleged charges of large-scale drug-trafficking.
After the Latvian authorities granted the extradition request, Petruhhin appealed the decision on the grounds that Latvia does not legally allow the extradition of its own citizens to Russia, as enshrined in an internationally-binding treaty.
Extradition is intended to prevent criminals from escaping justice. As Petruhhin is an Estonian national and allegedly committed his crimes in Russia, Latvia had no right to prosecute him themselves.
In its ruling, the ECJ advised that member states have no obligation to provide citizens with the same level of protection from extradition that it grants its own citizens, but emphasised that the member state that is the subject of the request, in this case Latvia, is obligated to take every step possible to ensure that the individual in question would not be at risk of torture, the death penalty or mistreatment.
The Luxembourg court also ruled that communication between member states, particularly the country of origin of the citizen, be prioritised, in order to give that country the chance to prosecute the individual themselves. This would allow a European arrest warrant to be issued and given priority over an external extradition request.
The Court emphasised that the pursuit of justice is a “legitimate objective” of EU law and that serious offences committed by EU citizens cannot go unpunished, just because they have exercised their right to move freely to another member state.
The original request for a ruling was made by the Augstākā tiesa, Latvia’s Supreme Court.