universal justice

Judge frees drug suspects in wake of universal justice changes

Court rules that government reform of doctrine makes it impossible to prosecute in such cases

The eight Egyptians in question were intercepted in international waters are not Spanish

Five Egyptian sailors who were caught by Spanish authorities in international waters allegedly smuggling 10 tons of hashish were released by the High Court on Tuesday after a judge determined that he could not prosecute due to new modifications to the Judicial Powers Act.

Their release is one of the effects of controversial changes to the law that went into effect on March 15, which restrict Spanish judges from applying the universal justice doctrine in international cases.

Judge Fernando Andreu ruled that the eight Egyptians cannot be prosecuted in Spain because they were caught outside Spanish jurisdiction, and none of the suspects is a Spaniard. Not even the boat they used to allegedly transport the hashish was flying the Spanish flag, Andreu ruled. Before the changes, the High Court would have had jurisdiction in the case and the eight would have been held in jail until their trial, he said in his eight-page ruling.

Not even the boat they used to allegedly transport the hashish was flying the Spanish flag, Andreu ruled

Anti-drug prosecutors said they will appeal the decision.

The Popular Party (PP) government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has come in for harsh criticism from human rights groups, the opposition and legal experts for restricting the use of the universal justice doctrine after officials were pressured by other countries with relation to ongoing High Court investigations. Specifically, the Chinese government lodged formal complaints against Madrid after arrest warrants were issued in February for former President Jiang Zemin, ex-Premier Li Peng and three other top Chinese officials for alleged rights abuses in Tibet during the 1980s and 1990s. A criminal rights abuse case was filed by Tibetan activists at the High Court.

Prosecutors and judges have warned that many current rights abuse cases and international drug trafficking investigations will have to be dropped under the new changes.

Some of the modifications to the Judicial Powers Act now require that those prosecuted under the universal jurisdiction doctrine must be Spaniards or residents of Spain at the time the crimes took place. The opposition Socialists have said they will file an appeal over the changes with the Constitutional Court.

China’s government lodged formal complaints against Madrid after arrest warrants were issued against top Chinese officials

The ship in this particular case left Alexandria, Egypt headed for Morocco where it reportedly loaded the 10 tons of hashish worth €54.6 million. It was expected to make the drop off in Libya.

In announcing that they will appeal the release of the suspects, anti-drug prosecutors said in their brief that the Vienna Convention requires all signatory states to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking. But Andreu wrote in his writ that the treaty does not have anything to do with the Spanish Court system because “it doesn’t establish the jurisdiction of the national courts, but instead only requires cooperation” from governments.


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