THE Justice Ministry’s list of criminal fugitives wanted by the United States, who are currently fighting their extraditions, is a large one.
US Embassy sources say Spain is dragging its feet in sending back people who have escaped their jurisdiction. One American woman facing federal charges in Puerto Rico for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill her rich Canadian husband 10 years ago, has been sitting in a Madrid prison since June 2013.
Despite a 1971 bilateral treaty, Spain treats each extradition case with special caution. But there is also a big stumbling block that has gained little attention.
David Mendoza Herrarte is serving a 14-year drug-trafficking sentence in New Jersey. In 2009, he was sent back after the US government reportedly guaranteed he could complete his time in a Spanish prison if he waived his extradition. Since then, the United States reneged on its pledge and Mendoza has filed a civil suit in US federal court to demand the Americans comply with their promise.
In December, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to ‘take all necessary measures’ to ensure that the 50-year-old Mendoza is allowed to return. The opposition UPyD party has taken up his case, and recently asked in Congress for the government to explain what it is doing to resolve the matter.
It seems one big factor is that Mendoza, who was born in Seattle to Basque parents and has lived all his life in the US, asked for and was granted Spanish nationality eight months prior to his arrest in Vizcaya, where he fled before his indictment.
In court papers, US prosecutors have not used this in their argument for keeping Mendoza; they simply say that there was no such pledge made. And no one seems to have come up with any written evidence.
But Spanish Ambassador Ramón Gil Casares conveniently told Washington recently that the Mendoza case, if not resolved promptly, could jeopardise future extraditions – reprisals Spain will no doubt apply to other countries.