Indian Ocean Nation Offers Extradition Immunity _ Price Tag: $10 Million
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A tiny Indian Ocean island nation has attracted the attention of law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe after passing a law guaranteeing to protect from extradition anyone willing to pay a $10 million citizenship fee.
The Republic of the Seychelles, with a population of 73,000, enacted the law in November as ``part of a package of investment incentives proposed to enhance...serious private investment in Seychelles,″ according to a memorandum on the law published by the Seychelles government.
The legislation stipulates that in exchange for the $10 million investment, the donor is granted ``immunity from prosecution for all criminal proceedings whatsoever″ _ meaning they could not be extradited to any foreign country for trial there.
The sweeping legislation has quickly attracted the attention of law enforcement officials in the United States, Britain and France, spawning fears that, as one official put it, the law will create ``a potential safe haven for wealthy criminals.″
The only exception to this kind of protection, according to the bill, involves crimes of ``violence and drug trafficking in Seychelles.″
According to the bill, these far-reaching protections can be revoked only by a referendum supported by 60 percent of the nation’s voters and subsequent approval of two-thirds of the Seychelles national assembly.
In addition, any Seychelles official who helps bring in a $10 million investor is also granted immunity from prosecution for any sort of crime anywhere in the world.
``You don’t want criminals renting a government anywhere,″ said Jonathan M. Winer, deputy assistant secretary of state for law enforcement and crime. ``This kind of law is bad not only for the Seychelles, but the entire international community.″
``We have some real concerns about this legislation, and we and other nations are making known our feelings,″ said another State Department official. ``We certainly do not want to see this economic development bill used to promote a safe haven for criminals.″
And one U.S. law enforcement official, citing intelligence reports, said that four men suspected of extensive criminal activities in Europe have already obtained citizenship in the Seychelles.
The official said that all four were immediately granted citizenship without the customary waiting period, and are now traveling back and forth to Europe using their Seychelles citizenship papers instead of their European travel documents.
``This is exactly the kind of thing we fear,″ said the official, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified by name.
Officials said the United States, Britain and France have made strong protests about the bill to France-Albert Rene, president of the Seychelles since 1977, who under the legislation would run a board that would negotiate with the potential investors.
In response to the objections from the international community, the Seychelles ambassador to the United States, Marc Marengo, has distributed a memo saying the investment law ``does NOT provide a haven for criminals in Seychelles nor a haven for fugitives from justice from anywhere in the world.″
The memo also states that all potential $10 million investors will be screened by Rene’s board, eliminating the possibility that criminals will be granted citizenship.
But while the memo also states that criminal activities will not be tolerated, both it and the legislation are silent on how potential investors will be judged on how they have earned their past millions.
Tourism is a staple of the Seychelles economy, and the controversial bill is part of an effort to boost business and spending in the 90-island chain. Travel to the island nation fell off sharply during the Persian Gulf war five years ago, and the current legislation is seen an attempt to stimulate the economy.
U.S. influence in this matter may be minimal, because the government is already planning to withdraw its Peace Corps volunteers, shut down a U.S. Air Force satellite tracking station and close the embassy there at the end of the current fiscal year.
Those moves, decided before Seychelles law was passed, were prompted by budget concerns, a State Department official said.