Gold Heist Figure A ‘Hot Potato’ Diplomatically
MIAMI (AP) _ The effort to move John Robert Fleming from a U.S. immigration detention camp in the Everglades to England for questioning in a $38.7 million gold heist has become a stop-and-go exercise in diplomatic intrigue.
The British want him but won’t extradite him. Fleming has tried to exercise his right to go to other countries but they don’t want him. The United States hasn’t been able to get rid of him.
″It’s the reverse of the Scarlet Pimpernel,″ said Peter Spiceley, the British consul general in Miami. ″We know where he is, but we can’t tell where he’s going.″
Fleming arrived here Aug. 10 after Costa Rican authorities put him on a flight out of their country. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service soon classified him as an undesirable, making him deportable.
But under U.S. law, Fleming has the right to choose his destination. He doesn’t want to go to England, where detectives from Scotland Yard want to ask him about a Brinks gold robbery at Heathrow Airport outside London in 1983. Six men were involved but only two have been convicted.
British officials refuse to say so, but they apparently have not sought Fleming’s extradition because doing so would obligate them to charge him with a crime and take him to trial. Authorities have never said what role they think he may have played in the robbery.
Fleming had a visa to go to Peru in December, but it was rescinded after British authorities told the Peruvians who he was.
Fleming then gained a visa from the Dominican Republic and boarded a flight, before U.S. authorities pulled him off after learning that visa, too, was canceled.
Last Tuesday, INS officers escorted him aboard a Pan American World Airways flight destined for London, then dutifully escorted him off after his attorney produced a visa allowing him to go to Venezuela.
A Venezuelan consul here later said the visa had been voided, but an official in Caracas said it was still valid.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp gave both sides seven days to clarify Fleming’s status and set a hearing for Wednesday.
The London Daily News editorialized, ″Americans sometimes carry their passion for a law a little too far and when it obstructs a criminal investigation by Scotland Yard, it is surely time to call a halt.″
″In the American justice system, we don’t railroad people,″ said Perry Rivkind, district INS director in Miami.
″We stopped taking orders from the British in 1776,″ he chuckled.
But while he joked about it, Rivkind, head of one of the INS’ busiest districts with tens of thousands of Haitian and Latin aliens, said Fleming’s case has been ″very time-consuming.″
Fleming has had at least three lawyers working for him. The current lead attorney, Oscar Levin, said he’s been working until 2 or 3 some mornings in what he calls an effort to prevent diplomatic pressure from bypassing his client’s rights.
″It’s an absolutely fascinating case,″ Levin said. ″I think the British government does have a great deal of influence and is using politics to try to control the destiny of cases, as opposed to following the letter of the law.″
″We’re not trying to artifically persuade the Americans to retain this chap,″ responded Francis Cornish, an official in the British embassy in Washington. ″We’re watching this with a very clear interest, but we’re not trying to interfere with the American court process.″
In the meantime, Fleming lives in the Krome Avenue detention camp, surrounded by barbed wire and swamp land, but Rivkind said he seems to be getting along well.
″He has a very nice personality. He seems rather content,″ Rivkind said. ″He reads extensively. He read ’A Tale of Two Cities.‴