Sweden grants asylum to citizen from EU candidate Romania

12.01.06 @ 18:23

  1. By Teresa Küchler

BRUSSELS - Sweden has granted political asylum to a controversial yoga teacher from EU candidate state Romania, with the Romanian leader referring to the case as an example of shortcomings in the country's legal system less than a year before accession is scheduled.

  • Romanian accession to the EU might face delay, says prime minister Tariceanu (Photo: European Commission)

The Swedish Migration Board at the beginning of this week granted refugee status to Mr Gregorian Bivolaru, a 53 year-old yoga-instructor on the grounds that he may face persecution due to his religious views in Romania, and that a trial against him in his home country would not be fair.

Last October, the Swedish government rejected a Romanian justice ministry's request for Mr Bivolaru's extradition on the same grounds.

Mr Bivolaru, founder of the Movement for the Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA) is standing trial in Romania for, amongst other things, rape, tax fraud and anti-Semite statements.

The Swedish Supreme Court, on whose statement the Swedish government bases its dismissal of the extradition request, noted that the evidence put forward against Mr Bivolaru from Bucharest was insufficient.

Bucharest in its extradition request included statements by Romanian MPs in a parliamentary debate as "facts", without substantial proof to back the claims.

The request referred to MPs describing Mr Bivolaru as "Satan", "psychopath" and "terrorist".

The Swedish court also referred to a report from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bucharest, stating that witnesses had been forced to declare false testimony against Bivolaru.

The organisation's executive director, Diana Calinescu, called the case a "slap in the face" for the Romanian legal system, and told EUobserver that the Romanian judiciary must take into account that it did not manage to convince the Swedish court that Mr Bivolaru would enjoy a fair trial in Romania.

Romanian PM concerned about accession

The Romanian prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu on Monday (9 January) pointed to the case as an example of shortcomings in the Romanian legal system, warning that these might jeopardise Romania's bid to join the EU in January 2007.

"If the yoga teacher is granted asylum in Sweden because his fundamental rights are not respected here in Romania, than that is a clear proof of the fact that justice does not function here," he said according to press reports.

Referring to further deficiencies in the country's legal system, Mr Tariceanu said "We see a lot of strange sentences, causing doubts about the honesty of judges".

Romania and Bulgaria signed their accession treaties on 25 April 2005, but these treaties for the first time contain a clause with the option to delay the 2007 entry date until 2008 if entry preparations are insufficient.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said Brussels would "not hesitate" to make use of the option in its recommendation on the entry date to EU member states, due in April or May 2006.

Mr Tariceanu also referred to this option, saying that "if accession fails to happen in 2007, we cannot be certain that it can happen in 2008," referring to the sceptical climate on enlargement currently characterising the EU.

MEPs concerned

A number of MEPs earlier expressed concern over the Bivolaru case, with the chairman of the European Parliament External Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok, sending a letter to Bucharest officials after the Swedish authorities first rejected the extradition request in November.

Socialist MEP Veronique de Keyser and her Danish eurosceptic colleague Jens-Peter Bonde have also pledged to keep a critical eye on the case.