The failure to secure a negotiated Brexit deal could affect the extradition of dozens of suspected foreign criminals including a businessman wanted in France for the alleged illegal funding of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign, senior British police warned on Tuesday.
Officers said they were in talks with government lawyers about suspects seized in the UK under pan-European arrest warrants amid uncertainty over their legal status if Britain crashes out of the bloc on March, 29 2019.
French-Algerian businessman Alexandre Djouhri’s extradition hearing is due to be held in November - more than four months before Brexit – but has already been delayed for a similar period because of health problems.
Britain extradites about 60 people a year to the other 28 nations of the European Union under the 14-year-old scheme designed to smooth the process of pursuing suspected criminals across borders.
The European Arrest Warrant is one of some 40 legal and policing tools that will be lost to the UK if fails to strike a deal with the EU, raising questions about those still going through the drawn-out extradition process.
Police said they were still consulting about what will happen to “people stuck in the system” in the event of a no-deal Brexit. “That’s what we’re trying to work out,” said Richard Martin, the senior British police officer responsible for Brexit planning. “We need to work it through with some of our fine legal minds about exactly what that means for those people that will be in the system.”
Jonathan Fisher, a British barrister who has advised MPs on the role of the warrant, said: “This is exactly why the legal profession is rubbing its hands in glee at the prospect of a Brexit that’s sudden and brutal.
“In the absence of any agreement between us and the EU, I think it would be difficult [to extradite]. If I was the person at the end of that warrant, I would challenge it.”
The arrest warrant for Mr Djouhri was issued by French authorities investigating the alleged illegal funding of Mr Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign by the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Mr Sarkozy was a key advocate of the Nato-led military campaign that resulted in Qaddafi’s overthrow and killing in 2011 and says the allegations are revenge for his backing of the rebels. He claims that publicity around the case meant he narrowly lost the 2012 election.
Mr Djouhri was held for suspected money laundering and fraud when he arrived at London’s Heathrow airport in January from Switzerland where he lives. He has spent time in prison but was freed under strict bail conditions after he collapsed in prison.
French prosecutors want to question the businessman over the 2009 sale of a luxury villa in the south of France to a Libyan investment fund managed by a former Qaddafi chief of staff for a suspiciously high price.
Mr Djouhri’s lawyers did not respond to requests to comment.
Police warnings over the European Arrest Warrant came amid broader concerns that a no-deal Brexit would make it harder to protect UK citizens as forces fall back on “slower, more bureaucratic” systems.
They warned that it would become harder to tackle organised crime in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They cited criminal record checks of foreign nationals that currently take about six days, but would increase to about 66.
Cases affected would include potential attempts to seize two suspects accused of the nerve agent attack on a former spy if they ever ventured out of Russia, based on an arrest warrant issued by the UK.