27th Jan 2021

Ex-Nazi officer dodges EU extradition rules

Denmark has expressed disappointment over a German court's refusal to extradite a war crimes suspect - a former SS officer - on a legal technicality, exposing weakness in the EU arrest warrant scheme.

"I will not hide the fact that I would have liked to see another ruling," Danish justice minister Lene Espersen said Monday (5 February). "We have in Denmark fought to have Soren Kam extradited to face court, but we must of course respect the German court ruling."

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Mr Kam, who now lives in south Germany after becoming a German citizen in 1956, took part in the abduction and killing of newspaper editor and resistance activist Carl Henrik Clemmensen in 1943 when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany.

Mr Clemmensen was unarmed and killed by eight shots from three different guns: one of the shooters faced court and was executed in 1946, one has vanished without trace and Mr Kam was found after undercover journalists saw him at a Nazi gathering in Austria in 1995.

Mr Kam in 1998 admitted shooting Mr Clemmensen but claimed the act was "self-defence," while complaining that he is now too frail to face trial. "I am 85 and ill and I don't see well. I can't [cope] anymore," he told Danish news agency Ritzau.

Denmark had expected the extradition to be a formality under the EU warrant scheme, which came into force in 2004 to smooth procedures for extradition of serious criminal suspects from one EU state to another.

Mutual recognition of criminal decisions

The EU warrant lists 32 offences to which the principle of "mutual recognition" applies, meaning that a judge in member state A does not have to approve an accusation in member state B before extraditing its citizen to member state B.

Denmark indicted Mr Kam on four out of the 32 counts, including murder.

"The presumption is that the judge does not have to double-check," CEPS think-tank expert Florian Geyer told EUobserver, adding that the so-called "mutual recognition of criminal decisions" is one of the cornerstones of the whole EU warrant scheme.

But Germany has secured a special exemption from the normal EU warrant rules, meaning that Mr Kam can stay at home after courts in Bayern found him guilty of manslaughter "only" - a crime that is not covered by the 32-point EU mandate.

"When a German has committed a crime abroad, the German juristiction must also be investigated...and in this case Mr Kam's German citizenship saves him from being extradited," a spokeswoman for the Bayern court told Ritzau. "It is legally quite complicated."

The European Arrest Warrant was put in place in the aftermath of the 9/11 US terrorist attacks to help process terrorism suspects. It replaced previous procedures based on bilateral agreements between individual EU countries.

"[The warrant] is one of the key instruments we have in combating organised crime and terrorism," European Commission spokesman Friso Roscam-Abbing said. "The German judge has made use of one of the exceptions to the general, war criminals are to be brought to justice."

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