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Treaty obligations and severity of crime key in extradition cases

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‘I am curious about the extradition laws and if they are really enforced in Japan,” writes reader E.S. “Recently, a friend of a friend was telling everyone that he would be leaving Japan to go back to America. He said he was being extradited back to America because he stole money — according to him, $55,000. It seems like a waste of time to extradite someone for such an amount. So, my question is, do many people get extradited for such crimes?”

Japan has entered into extradition treaties with the United States and South Korea, so the government is legally obliged to transport fugitives wanted for certain crimes committed in those countries back to face justice. However, it is possible for the Japanese government to extradite fugitives to requesting countries that have no such bilateral treaty with Tokyo, under Japan’s Law of Extradition.

However, for a request for extradition to succeed, it must meet strict requirements under both the Law of Extradition and, in the case of the U.S. and South Korea, the treaty between the two countries. The most important requirement is that the alleged criminal conduct for which extradition is being sought must be punishable under the laws of both countries. (This is known as the principle of dual criminality.)

More specifically, the U.S. treaty states: “Extradition shall be granted in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty for any offense listed in the Schedule annexed to this Treaty … when such an offense is punishable by the laws of both Contracting Parties by death, by life imprisonment or by deprivation of liberty for a period of more than one year.” In cases where the person sought has not been convicted of the offense concerned, the U.S. is also required to prove there is probable cause to suspect that the person committed the offense.

As larceny is listed in the schedule attached to the treaty and can be punishable in Japan by a sentence of more than one year in prison, extradition from Japan to the U.S. would be granted on request providing that 1) larceny is also punishable by imprisonment for at least one year under U.S. criminal laws; and 2) there is sufficient evidence to prove either that a) there is probable cause to suspect the person has committed the larceny, or b) that the person sought has already been convicted of the crime in U.S. court. Basically, the amount of money the reader’s “friend of a friend” stole does not matter, as long as the request meets the aforementioned criteria.

According to the 2014 white paper on crime, only 11 fugitives were extradited from Japan to foreign countries (including the U.S.) between 2004 and 2013, an average of just over one a year. But although the number of fugitives actually extradited from Japan is small, this does not mean that the crime concerned has to be particularly grave — like murder, for example — for extradition to take place.

Toshiteru Shibaike is an attorney with the Foreign nationals and International Service Section at Tokyo Public Law Office, which handles a wide range of cases involving foreigners in the Tokyo area (www.t-pblo.jp/fiss; 03-6809-6200). FISS lawyers address readers’ queries once a month. Your questions and other comments: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp