London – A father of seven has launched a battle in a London court against extradition to America for a 20-year-old crime he claims he did not commit.
American-born Tuvia Stern, 45, from the Satmar community, was arrested as he tried to leave Britain after visiting two of his children. He was released on bail of £1 million.
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At a hearing at City of Westminster magistrates court, senior district judge Timothy Workman was told by Mr Stern's lawyer Jonathan Goldberg QC, that the attempt to force Mr Stern back to America was an abuse of the British legal process.
Mr Goldberg said that in 1989, Mr Stern was indicted by a grand jury in New York for two alleged frauds that he claimed were organised by his brother Ephraim. They involved a £132,500 cheque fraud and an alleged plot to defraud a telecoms company of £750,000. In 1990, on the eve of his trial and on the advice of his rabbi, Mr Stern fled to Sao Paolo, Brazil, to avoid giving evidence against his brother.
His wife, and the five children the couple had at the time, followed and he remained there until last December.
Mr Goldberg told the judge that the US government knew where he was and had tried but twice failed to extradite Mr Stern from Brazil.
He claimed that FBI agents offered to drop their pursuit if he helped them find Sholam Weiss, then wanted in connection with the $450-million collapse of an insurance company; that the US government lulled him into a false sense of security when he was given a new passport, telling him he could travel anywhere, except America. This, Mr Goldberg argued, was a trick to get him to leave Brazil.
But Clair Dobbin, counsel for the US government, said they had discovered Mr Stern's whereabouts only after he was arrested in 2001 for identity card offence. Before that, she said, he had used aliases and applied for a passport using a "pet" name, Tebi.
As for the passport, she said there was no trickery. "Telling Mr Stern he was free to travel is not the same as telling him he was free from arrest," said Ms Dobbin.
The judge reserved his judgment until this Monday. [thejc]