2:24pm , Friday 24th September 2021

Jordan Becomes a Safe Haven for Palestinian Fugitives

4 December 2012

Fayed Abu Samra, 44, from the city of Kalkilia was found dead before Palestinian police forces arrived at the crime scene, while the defendant, (R.M.), had already crossed the border into Jordan.

His arrival in Amman on a hot day in May 2008 made his arrest as difficult as looking for a “needle in a haystack”. This prompted Jordan-based Rafiq Abu Samra, brother of the slain victim, to take matters into his own hands. He tracked down the alleged murderer with help from the Palestinian Embassy in Amman.

The suspect was arrested three weeks later as he tried to cross the border into Syria. He was subsequently handed over to the Palestinian judiciary.

However, for 38- year-old Lina Al Swaiti from Ramallah, did not have much luck.

The lawsuit filed by Al Swaiti against Kh. A, the alleged suspect, remains unsettled three years after he conned her into buying a piece of land for $35,000. The defendant fled to Jordan where he continues to practice his commercial business, with no legal accountability.  A total of 17 lawsuits have been filed against the same defendant by Palestinian citizens defrauded in a similar manner, according to information gathered in this investigative report.

Al Swaiti, an employee at the Monetary Authority, now lives on a third of her monthly salary after borrowing money to buy what turned out to be a “non-existent” piece of land as an investment to secure the future of her two daughters. With a sigh of regret she says that “the fraudster and his wife fled to Jordan before the Attorney General could issue two rulings banning them from travel”.

With less than 100 km between Jerusalem and Amman, it takes only two hours to travel from the West Bank to Jordan. This short travel distance has provided enough time for over 20 accused people to flee the Palestinian Judiciary system over the past five years, as documented by this three-person investigative team.

The ease and speed with which travellers move from territory under the control of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to neighbouring Jordan, as well as failure to activate the bilateral extradition agreement, keeps such fugitives outside the arm of the law. As a result, the number of court cases that remain open or are sentenced in absentia continue to rise, constituting a grave violation of the interests of many Palestinians.

The case of ‘Fayez Al Rajabi’ in Hebron takes on a nationalistic dimension after settlers occupied the ‘Al Rajabi building, claiming that they had bought it in March 2007 from a Palestinian citizen who also carries Jordanian nationality.

Al Rajabi, who had suspended the sale of his building to the defendant (A.G.) for security reasons, discovered that the latter had forged papers, sold it to the settlers and then fled to Jordan.  Al Rajabi was assisted in his move to reclaim his property by a Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisation opposing the expansion of colonisation in the old city of Hebron.  He filed legal complaints with the Israeli Supreme Court which ruled to expel the settlers but without returning the property to its rightful owner.

Al Rajabi demands the trial of the defendant and the questioning of the latter’s partner, identified as (M.F). He also accuses the PNA of neglect. “They were never concerned with bringing the defendant, and they did not allow me to travel”.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the accused holds a Jordanian national number, which according to Jordanian law, prevents his extradition even if the Palestinian authorities were to submit a formal request.

Large numbers of Palestinians are Jordanian nationals and live in the West Bank. Others are Palestinian nationals and live in Jordan, holding a Jordanian passport and national number, making them citizens with full rights. According to statistics from the Jordanian Interior Ministry, there are 800,000 Palestinians who hold a yellow card (meaning that they hold a Jordanian national number whilst having the right to live in the West Bank). This makes up around 15% of Jordan’s citizens. In addition, there are some 145,000 Gazan refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) who do not hold national numbers, but live in Jordan.

The case of Swaiti, Al Rajabi and others seeking their usurped rights have one thing in common – their alleged perpetrators live in Jordan, exploiting their dual nationality and a range of unresolved issues pertaining to bilateral extradition agreements.

Israeli occupation forces in charge of the border crossings since 1967 further complicate this file, allowing Jordan to become a safe haven for “criminals” as well as those who commit less serious offences like theft, family brawls, molestation, etc.

Judge Fareed Al Jallad, President of the Supreme Judicial Council, points out that the legal relationship between Jordan and Palestine is governed by the ‘Riyadh Agreement on Judicial Cooperation’ under the umbrella of the Arab League. It confirms that the Jordanian authorities “extend their cooperation and follow up on legal procedure, pursuing and extraditing fugitives to the Palestinian authorities”.

The Palestinian Minister of Justice at the time of this investigation, Ali Al Khashan, agrees with Judge Al Jallad that “Jordan is very cooperative and does extradite; Occupation is the obstacle”. The same statement was repeated by Atallah Khairi, the Palestinian Ambassador to Jordan.

Asked to explain the rise in the number of fugitives fleeing to Jordan despite cooperation with Jordan, Al Jallad attributed this to “the ability of a criminal to escape to Jordan before the specialised Palestinian authorities have time to take the necessary action to prevent this”.

However, Al Jallad acknowledges that it is beyond the control of the Jordanian authorities at times to extradite suspects when for instance “he or she is able to mask his identity with a fake passport, or escape via Jordan to other countries”.

Despite this testament to the cooperation of the Jordanian authorities, not one suspect or criminal has yet been handed over to the Palestinians through the Judicial Recovery System, says the Assistant Attorney General and Counsellor Judge Abdul Ghani Al Uwaiwi.

“Between 2007 and 2010, we put forward to Jordan five extradition requests… not one of them has been handed over”.

Khairi, the Palestinian Ambassador in Amman, tones down the gravity of the problem. He said his mission “has never faced any problem with regard to the exchange of wanted criminals between Jordan and the PNA because there are clear legal texts governing the issue”. He was referring to cases where citizens with dual nationality violate the law, as well as those holding a Jordanian passport or any other Jordanian travel document. These suspects, he said, may only be prosecuted in accordance with Jordanian law. The offence is treated as if it had been committed in Jordan”.

According to Khairi, the embassy’s role is confined to communicating with the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn addresses the relevant authorities.

As for the fugitive of in “Abu Samra” murder, he was extradited by Jordan to Palestine in 2008 through the effort of his brother, Rafeeq, who lives in Amman, and not under the Judiciary Recovery System, says the family.

The journalists working on this investigation showed Al Uwaiwi more than 20 cases – all recorded over the past five years and involving accused who are outside the country. They also asked why there were only five extradition requests and were told by Al Uwaiwi that “priority is given to dangerous crimes such as corruption and homicide”.

When asked about the failure to file extradition requests in dealing with “big corruption” cases, he referred to “complications” in hand-over procedures, political instability, the lack of Palestinian sovereignty and control at border crossings as well as the issue of dual nationality”.

As for which authorities are the ones to decide on cases that warrant an extradition request, Al Uwaiwi replied: “We usually examine the case, and if conditions apply, we file an extradition request, devoid of pressure from family or officials. But we do not file for extradition in cases of corruption and fraud because they are not covered in the Agreement”.

Al Uwaiwi’s explanation, however, does not conform with the text of the Agreement which does not classify crimes where extradition is applicable and clearly stipulates the extradition of fugitives regardless of the nature of the crime.

This team of journalists repeatedly tried to interview officials in the Palestinian Police Force or at The Border Crossings Control offices, but to no avail despite months of correspondence

The Palestinian Border Crossings Control has arrested many suspects on their way to Jordan.  According to information published on the Police Force’s main website, 1919 alleged suspects in various criminal cases were arrested as they attempted to cross into Jordan between early 2010 and end 2011.

According to an “authorised source” at Jordan’s Ministry of Justice, Amman received seven extradition requests between 2009 and 2012 involving the following cases:

1-      A suspect accused of issuing bad cheques. He was handed over in 2012.

2-      A suspect accused of embezzlement in 2012. But the extradition was rejected as he had already been sentenced in Jordan;

3-      A suspect in 2010 in a homicide. But the request was rejected as the suspect had been sentenced for two other homicides in Jordan in 2009 and 2012.

4-      Two suspects in two fraud cases. But the request was turned down as they both had already been convicted for embezzlement in Jordan.

The source added that “Jordan handed over to the Palestinian authorities a man wanted in a “money-laundering” case in 2010 and another in 2011 for issuing bad cheques”.

One of the most important cases that surfaced recently and reopened the file on suspect recovery and delivery was that of Fatah Movement leader, Mohammad Dahlan.

The Chief of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission, Rafeeq Al Natsheh, stated that the PNA approached Jordan to freeze his “transferable and non-transferable” assets. But Dahlan denied that he owns any property in Jordan.

This investigation found out that the Anti-corruption Commission is following up on a number of cases of suspects who live in Jordan. But none of them have been extradited. The Commission has declined comment on these cases despite several requests for information made by this team of journalists.

When it comes to the conditions that make extradition compulsory and binding to any state, Legal Counsellor Ali Abu Dyak says that: “If the offense is classified as criminal, the Riyadh Agreement ruling is binding”. He adds that “Article 40 specifies those who must be extradited as anyone who is charged for acts punishable under the laws of both countries for a one year sentence or more. The crime has to be of a certain degree of importance”.

Abu Dyak continues that “the Agreement clarifies the crimes where extradition is not allowed as those that are political in nature or are limited to a breach of military duties”.

Counsellor Al Uwaiwi concurs with Abu Dyak in acknowledging that there are complications in the suspect recovery and delivery system where certain documentation and attachments are required and where failure to submit one of them results in the case being dropped completely. He confirms that “criminals were not handed over to the PNA because of technicalities such as insistence by Jordan on receiving the original copy of the suspect recovery and delivery file rather than certified copies”.

Legal expert Issam Abdeen stated the requirements for an extradition request. “It must be accompanied by a detailed statement regarding the defendant’s identity, physical description, nationality, a photograph, the arrest warrant, a memorandum giving the date and place the where the alleged offence was committed, its modifications, the legal requisites applicable in this specific case, a certified copy of these requisites and a listing of the existing evidence against the accused who is to be extradited”.

In light of the complications arising from the Riyadh Agreement as acknowledged by all parties, Abdeen continues: “The Law of 1927 on the Extradition of Fugitives is still applicable, effective and in force in Jordan and in the Palestinian territories”.

The aforementioned law does not require the existence of an agreement between Jordan and Palestine to extradite fugitive criminals.  It allows the extradition of those who have committed crimes in Palestine and have then fled to Jordan if an extradition request is filed.

In addition, article 10, paragraph 4, of the Jordanian Penal Code number 16 of 1960 states that its rules “apply to all foreigners living in the Kingdom who have committed a crime or felony outside the Kingdom that is punishable by Jordanian law”.

This assurance by Abdeen indicates that there are loopholes within the system. Counsellor Al Uwaiwi blames these shortcomings on the nascent Palestinian judicial experience and the nature of the judicial monitoring system in Jordan. “If there is any procedural malfunction, the extradition request is rejected”.

Al Uwaiwi spoke of mistakes committed by the Jordanians as well as the Palestinian Ministry of Justice, further complicating the extradition of some defendants. Al Khashan, the Justice  Minister, rejected the accusation made by Al Uwaiwi. “Extradition requests are not a work of art; All we do is file a request with the Jordanian side,” he said

Al Uwaiwi notes that the response of the Jordanian side to extradition requests is convincing. As representative of the public prosecutor, he cannot comment on Jordanian judicial decisions which state that the defendant has left Jordan or that the defendant is a Jordanian citizen and cannot be extradited under the law.

As head of the Palestinian Ministry of Justice team handling extradition cases between 2003 and 2007, Aby Dyak confirms this analysis. However, he raises important and dangerous technical issues: “Often the defendant hears of the extradition request and flees Jordan due to the fact that many parties are involved in the matter, and because of the lengthy time it takes to prepare a request”.

This is what happened in case of “Abdul Lateef Hajjeh”. He was accused of embezzling money from a Palestinian non-governmental organisation. The first extradition request was rejected by the Jordanians on ground the defendant holds a Jordanian national identification number. The second extradition request was rejected on grounds “the defendant is no longer on Jordanian territory”.

The “Hajjeh” case underscores problems posed by dual nationality. Laws in both countries prohibit the extradition of their nationals to another state, making the process difficult and rendering the “Riyadh Agreement” legally inadequate, according to legal experts.

According to Al Uwaiwi, the law still allows this problem to be circumvented as it is possible for the trial to take place in Jordan and vice versa. This was the case of defendant “A.J.“ who was sentenced by a Jordanian court to 21 years. The appeal for his extradition was refused.

Al Uwaiwi points out that “cases of fraud, debt and bad cheques can be filed in Jordanian courts, thereby avoiding extradition requests”. However, Abu Dyak sees that while trying big cases in Jordan might be feasible, the process is hindered by complications such as the need to transport witnesses for questioning as well as transferring the case files and related documents to Jordan”.

The high costs involved in the extradition request forced Jamal Zama’areh of Halhoul in Hebron to wait for four years in order to extradite (A.K.) who fled to Jordan after defrauding him and the General Petroleum Commission with a total of 27 million Israeli shekels. He asks: “if I am not able to follow up on this case here, will I be able to follow up on it in Jordan?”

After all his attempts failed to get his gas station up and running, and, before that, to extradite the accused to stand trial, Zama’areh filed a complaint in December 2010 with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the Anti-Corruption Commission. He demanded the case be reinvestigated, in the firm belief that he is a victim of a huge corruption case linked to an official institution.

He angrily says: “The solution is available. Why can’t they bring in the suspect and expose the corruption case he represents?”

Abu Dyak told the team of journalists that there are cases where extradition requests have been filed but years later nothing has materialised. “When I worked at the Ministry of Justice, we put forward 6 to 7 requests between 2003 and 2007 but we never received a positive response for reasons related to either dual nationality, suspects being on the run, complications pertaining to the extradition file and ‘the situation’ in Palestine”.

The “situation in Palestine” is not given any special consideration in the Riyadh Agreement.  The time limits for filing an extradition request and, for the handover are specified by the Agreement. But Palestine is under occupation. Obstacles associated with the lack of control over its border check points limit ability to receive and extradite.

Al Uwaiwi acknowledges that the Jordanians do cooperate on murder cases, where the killer is arrested instantly. One such example is the extradition of (G.Gh.) who was accused of murdering Fayed Abu Samra.

The victim’s brother, Mohammad Abu Samra, said: “The accused remained in Jordan for about one month, and had it not been for the efforts of my brother Rafeeq  and his relations with the Palestinian Embassy in Amman, the extradition would have been doubtful”. This claim is supported by a number of murder cases where extradition requests were demanded but never delivered upon.

Legal expert Hanna Issa worked for several years at the Ministry of Justice. He was responsible for the extradition file. He said several laws dealing with extradition, some old and outdated and others more recent and modern, have all failed to regulate the legal relationship between the Kingdom and the PNA. “The lack of experience in the field of legislation and the fear of falling into legal errors is the biggest obstacle”.

According to Issa, the complexity of the extradition file warrants the drawing up of another bilateral agreement that can help end the suffering of the citizens, similar to the extradition agreement between the PNA and Israel (fourth protocol of the Interim Agreement of 1999 –The Oslo Accord). Under this, is a joint Israeli-Palestinian Legal Committee, says Lieutenant General Jihad Al Jayousi, the Palestinian Military Liaison Commander.

Al Jayousi adds, “This Committee does not interfere in extradition cases between Jordan and Palestine, but the Israeli and Jordanian sides coordinate these issues through the International Relations Office at the Palestinian Interior Ministry (Interpol)”.

This Office refused comment despite our repeated requests.

Building on this bilateral agreement, the Minister of Justice, the Assistant Attorney General and others believe that a trilateral agreement will be drawn up among the PNA, Jordan and Israel, to regulate the process. But Issa is doubtful. He and other non-legal experts say the responsibility for drawing up these agreements remain at the Judiciary. The latter prepares draft laws and then asks the President to process them legally in coordination with the judicial authorities in Jordan and in Israel.

The prosecution and extradition of criminals from Jordan is a priority for Palestine. It needs to be addressed urgently as it is the only hope for victims.  The subsequent flight of the accused from Jordan means that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute them because of the inadequacy of extradition agreements and the fact that airports, seaports and gateways are not under the control of the PNA. Many states do not recognise the PNA as a sovereign and independent state.

Failure to revive extradition laws and to develop them in accordance with the specificity of the Palestinian-Jordanian situation means that the rights of victims will remain suspended between the two banks of the river while the criminals who steal, cheat and kill walk free between both sides.

This report was prepared under the supervision of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).


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