London’s High Court has thrown out a Romanian extradition request for businessman Gabriel ‘Puiu’ Popoviciu. The Court found credible evidence showing that the Romanian trial judge who convicted and sentenced Popoviciu in 2017 had previously assisted organized crime figures, and had solicited bribes for issues related to Popoviciu’s case.
The Court concluded that Popoviciu had “suffered a complete denial” of his trial rights as protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, the Court stated that his extradition would represent a “flagrant denial” of his individual rights as protected by Article 5 of the same Convention.
This marks the first time that the British High Court has concluded that extradition to an EU member state represents a denial of a requested person’s Convention rights. As explained by leading British legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg, the European arrest warrant has allowed fast-track extradition between members of the EU since 2004.
“It’s easy to say that if this is the standard of justice in a country that has been an EU member since 2007, the UK is better off without the European arrest warrant,“ continued Rozenberg, “the real lesson of this case is a more chastening one: you don’t have to travel far to find judicial behaviour that would be unthinkable in the UK. It should also be unthinkable in the EU.”
Popoviciu was one of the first business people to bring Western brands to Romania in the wake of Ceausescu’s ousting, including the KFC and IKEA franchises. He was part of a small number of individuals who capitalized on the liberation of markets in the former Communist country.
In 2002, he helped develop the Baneasa Project which, at the time, was Eastern Europe’s largest real-estate development. Baneasa attracts 40 million visitors per year and contributes around €230 million to the national economy each year. The success of the project also turned Popoviciu into a target of Romania’s notoriously corrupt judicial system.
In 2017, Popoviciu was sentenced to seven years in prison without parole in a fraud and corruption case centred on how he received the 224-hectare land on which the Baneasa mall is built. Popoviciu’s initial conviction in the Bucharest Court of Appeal sentenced him to nine years in prison.
Prior to his conviction, Popoviciu voluntarily handed himself in to London’s police upon learning that a European Arrest Warrant had been issued against him by the Romanian government.