Law's long arm reaches out for Britain's runaway crims

By Paul Peachey

For any self-respecting British criminal in search of a haven to hide from the police, Cyprus ticks all the boxes: a large expat community, lots of sun, nice restaurants, and - in the north - no extradition treaty.

In a sign of the growing importance of the Mediterranean island as a bolt-hole for the criminal classes, details of nine "most-wanted" suspects - wanted in Britain for crimes including rape, multimillion-pound fraud and drug dealing - were circulated yesterday.

The nine are all believed to be living or travelling in the Greek-Cypriot southern part of the divided island, where British authorities are working with their local counterparts to try to trace them. They include Martin Evans, 50, from Swansea, who is wanted for drug dealing, and Paul Lockwood, 41, sought for allegedly raping a girl.

But the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) accepts there is little it can do about criminals who remain in the northern third of the island, which is unrecognised by Britain and inhabited by Turkish Cypriots - and a growing British community.

The details of the nine were released in a co-ordinated move involving local police, Soca and Crimestoppers.

A spokeswoman for Crimestoppers said the Cypriots were bolstering their presence at the crossing between the two parts of the island to try to prevent any of the suspects from reaching the north.

Authorities in the northern part of the island - which is recognised only by Turkey - are not part of the programme, raising questions as to its effectiveness.

"There's no question that these are not the only nine individuals wanted by UK law enforcement who are in Cyprus," said a Soca spokesman.

The northern part of the island was home to Asil Nadir for 17 years after he fled Britain while facing trial over the collapse of the company he headed, Polly Peck International.

He was jailed last month for 10 years but only after he voluntarily returned to Britain from Northern Cyprus, fully expecting to be cleared of stealing millions of pounds from his own company.

Detectives also believe that an alleged gangster, Sean Lupton, fled to Northern Cyprus in 2007 with millions of pounds from a £53 million ($106 million) cash robbery of a Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent.

He has not been seen since, and his family claim he is probably dead.

The popularity of Cyprus has grown as the "Costa del Crime" in Spain has lost its lustre with the advent of the European arrest warrant, which has sped up the extradition process. In 2010-11, 38 of the 133 people surrendered to Britain under the scheme were from Spain and only one was from Cyprus. British police are hoping to build on the success of a similar "most-wanted" scheme which it started in Spain in October 2006 and which led to 49 out of 65 suspects being arrested.

Soca said this year that Northern Cyprus was emerging as a growing centre for fugitive criminals along with Thailand and South Africa, which have large English populations.

The agency's deputy director, Martin Molloy, said: "Fugitives hiding overseas typically remain part of the criminal world, continuing to bring harm to communities locally and beyond. Soca and our partners are determined to ensure life on the run is intolerable for them, and that they are returned to face justice in the UK."

European arrest warrants have been lauded as playing a significant role in dismantling networks of criminals in Spain, but some campaigners have highlighted what they claim are malicious and petty prosecutions under the scheme, which began in 2004.

Catherine Heard, head of policy at Fair Trials International, said: "The European arrest warrant was intended to improve cross-border co-operation by streamlining and speeding up the extradition process and it has had some notable successes, but in too many cases the lack of safeguards in this system has led to grave injustice."

- Independent

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