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Sweden rejects Chinese embezzlement extradition request

Swedish and Chinese flags pictured side by side at a Beijing event

Stockholm, Sweden | AFP | Sweden’s top court on Tuesday rejected a Beijing extradition request for a Chinese man accused of economic crimes because of risks of persecution and the death penalty in China.

Qiao Jianjun, a former official of the Chinese state grain administration, is wanted by Beijing under a sweeping government campaign against corruption.

He is accused of having embezzled over 200 million yuan ($29 million or 26 million euros), according to documents from Chinese authorities provided to Sweden.

Qiao contests the accusations against him and claims he has been in Beijing’s sights since joining the “China Democracy Party” in 2010.

“He denies the crimes and is only being hunted by Chinese authorities because they think he isn’t faithful to the (Communist) party,” his lawyer, Henrik Olsson Lilja, told AFP.

– Risk of rights violation –

The Swedish top court said that there was a “real risk” that the accused could be sentenced to death, and assurances otherwise by Chinese authorities could not be given enough weight to justify extradition.

“The Supreme Court makes the assessment that there is a risk that he will be subjected to persecution because of his political activity and that he will be subjected to treatment in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights,” Justice Petter Asp said in a statement.

“Under these conditions, extradition cannot take place,” he added.

The Swedish government officially makes the final decision on extradition matters, but it is obliged to follow the Supreme Court’s rulings.

During a press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated an earlier statement that China hopes that Sweden would “face up to the facts of Qiao Jianjun’s crime” and “not become a safe haven for criminals”.

“China attaches great importance to the protection and promotion of human rights,” Geng added.

Qiao was originally arrested and detained in Sweden in June 2018 at China’s request.

He was released on 19 June 2019 only to be again arrested a week later in another case, this time at the behest of the US, whose authorities suspect him of money laundering in 2015.

Sweden has given the US until August 2 to submit a more detailed account of the crimes he is suspected of before it decides on a potential extradition.

– Diplomatic tensions –

According to court documents, Qiao started travelling between China and the US after gaining a US visa in 2009.

He decided to permanently leave China in 2011 after joining the “China Democracy Party” and moved to the US with his family.

Later he moved to Austria and then to Sweden in 2014 together with his new wife, who is an Austrian citizen.

The couple have a two-year-old child, which according to his lawyer has made his detention unbearable.

“This has been a nightmarish year for him,” Olsson Lilja said.

In March this year Qiao applied for asylum in Sweden, but Swedish authorities have not yet made a decision.

Diplomatic relations between China and Sweden have been strained over a number of incidents in recent years.

The two countries have for instance been at odds over the arrest of Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book shop.

In 2018 a video showing Swedish police removing three Chinese tourists from a hotel in Stockholm was published online, which the Chinese embassy characterised as “brutal abuse” of the officers.

The row escalated when Swedish comedian Jesper Ronndahl produced a satirical information video for Chinese tourists and published it on Chinese social media site Youku.

Outrage, rather than laughter, ensued and the Chinese foreign ministry called the video a “gross insult to and vicious attack on China and the Chinese people”.

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