Austria refused to extradite the Turkmen oppositionist.
As it is known, Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive countries in the world. For decades, critics of the regime forced to stay abroad have faced the threat of forced return to their homeland. The Turkmen authorities have repeatedly sent out extradition requests based on trumped-up criminal cases to silence voices of protest. The first such requests were sent to Russia back in 1994.
Starting in 2002, the hunt for oppositionists in exile reached a new level, and since then it has repeatedly experienced ups and downs. In recent years, due to the growing civic activity of Turkmen migrants abroad, the authorities increasingly accuse the latter of criminal offenses.
Thus, in 2019, a request was sent to Austria regarding the former ambassador of Turkmenistan to Turkey, a well-known opponent of the regime, Nurmuhammet Khanamov. Ashgabat had previously requested the extradition of Khanamov, since in December 2002 he was convicted in absentia by the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan under eighteen articles of the Criminal Code in the case of an attempt to remove the Turkmen dictator from power. However, it was not possible to obtain extradition at that time. The Austrian authorities granted asylum to Khanamov, refusing to recognize him as a "terrorist", and the political accusations of the Turkmen authorities did not look too convincing in Europe.
And in 2019, Turkmenistan is making a new attempt to extradite Khanamov. This time, they decided to drop political accusations and, for the sake of persuasiveness, limited themselves to purely criminal offenses that allegedly took place.
As can be seen from the notification received by the oppositionist from the Federal Criminal Police Office of the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, the request for his extradition was based on false accusations of abuse of office while serving as ambassador to Turkey: receiving bribes in 1993 in the amount of 60,000 dollars for concluding illegal contracts, appropriation in the same year of about 45,000 dollars, smuggling into Turkey 500 grams of opium using diplomatic immunity. In addition, in February 2002, Khanamov allegedly stole another $8.5 million from the Turkmen government.
Some of these accusations look strange even at first glance. So Khanamov was appointed ambassador only in 1994, so in 1993 he could not commit offenses related to his diplomatic position. And it's hard to see how, having resigned in early February 2002, he could steal another $8.5 million from the government.
During the check, it turned out that Khanamov had the status of a refugee since June 3, 2003, and therefore was not subject to extradition to Turkmenistan.
Nevertheless, the investigation continued and in the end "no factual grounds for further prosecution were established". On September 03, 2019, the Austrian authorities requested the provision of legal assistance from Turkmenistan to verify suspicions. However, “the Turkmen side failed to comply with the request to provide evidence confirming the guilt of the accused. Also, a written request from the Austrian side dated April 14, 2021 to provide evidence and provide legal assistance, which would be in the interests of the Turkmen authorities, was rejected.”
Since Ashgabat did not want to cooperate in the investigation of the allegations, on May 6, 2021, the Austrian authorities decided to dismiss the case.
This is how another “soap bubble” created by the Turkmen authorities burst.
Often against dissidents former government officials, Turkmenistan fabricates cases of financial crimes, such as misappropriation, embezzlement, money laundering. Misleading the countries where the dissidents ended up, the Turkmen side is trying in every possible way to achieve their extradition. Suffice it to recall the cases of A. Kuliyev, S. Iklymov. H. Orazov and others.
The most detailed media coverage was the case of the former deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Turkmenistan, Annadurdy Khajiev, who resigned of his own free will back in 1998. In 2002 (and then again in 2007 through Interpol), Turkmenistan sent apparently fabricated requests to Bulgaria for his extradition to his homeland. The Prosecutor General's Office of Turkmenistan concocted the same allegations of his alleged involvement embezzlement and misappropriation of $42 million from the CBT in 2002.
The court of the city of Varna (Bulgaria) ruled in both cases that the requests for the extradition of A. Khajiev were connected not with involvement in the embezzlement, but with political overtones, since he had not worked at the CBT since 1998 and went abroad in 2001. Bulgaria, as well as Austria in the above case, offered cooperation to the Turkmen prosecutors in investigating the allegations, but Ashgabat was unable to produce any evidence of Khajiev's guilt. After the trial, the dissident's family applied for asylum.
In turn, A. Khajiev filed a complaint against Bulgaria with the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg) for violation of his rights when considering the request of Turkmenistan from 2007, which was already considered in 2003 by the court of the city Varna. In 2014, the ECHR Court found violations of rights by the Bulgarian authorities in the case of A. Khajiev and decided to pay him compensation.
We note here that the quality of the criminal investigation in Turkmenistan is at such a low level that Ashgabat usually keeps silent if requests for additional materials arise during the consideration of extradition cases.
Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights