Lawyers for a Romanian prince battling extradition before the Maltese courts claimed on Monday the request by the Romanian authorities was based on a corrupt decision which, if executed, would result in a breach of fundamental rights. 

Prince Paul-Philippe al Romaniei, the 75-year-old member of the Romanian royal family, fled Romania in 2020 following his conviction for corruption related to the illegal restitution of real estate near Bucharest, to which authorities said he falsely claimed ownership. 

He was sentenced to a prison term of three years and four months. 

The prince was taken into police custody just over a week ago while attending an event in Malta. 

Upon arraignment last Monday, he did not consent to the extradition and was remanded in custody.

A former French prosecutor and academic who was also actively involved in several EU anti-corruption missions testified via videoconference at the extradition proceedings.

Describing the matter as “scandalous,” retired magistrate Serge Mackowiak said that he had met the prince a couple of times in the presence of his legal advisors.

Following a detailed overview of the historical, political and legal saga surrounding the prince, the witness concluded that the European Arrest Warrant was null.

The reasons were threefold. 

That warrant was a result of political persecution, while the whole dispute stemmed from a Nazi edict dated 1941 which ordered the illegal confiscation of the royal family’s property.

Moreover, the Romanian court that ordered the prince’s extradition was not lawfully constituted because two of the judges who ordered the extradition did not take the oath of allegiance. 

Pending case before European Court of Human Rights

A US attorney who assisted the prince for the past 12 years and who is also following the extradition case in Malta, also testified on Monday. 

Besides seeking to overturn the prince’s 2020 conviction, lawyer Edward Griffin had also filed a case before the European Court of Human Rights. That case was still pending. 

The prince’s conviction in Romania violated his right to a fair trial, due process and family rights, Griffin said.

“They [Romanian authorities] say he is not the legitimate heir of Carol II. That’s ridiculous because so far all courts all over Europe held that he is the legitimate heir,” said Griffin.

Property confiscated by Nazis

After the fall of the Communist regime, Prince Paul and his father returned to Romania to reclaim family property. 

But they were met with the argument that even if entitled to the property, that property was not confiscated by the communist state but by the Nazis. 

While the property feud continued, in 2022 Prince Paul was targeted by an EAW in Paris. 

The Paris Court of Appeal turned down the request, citing “systematic deficiencies” in the Romanian judicial system. 

That conclusion was reaffirmed by the Court of Cassation.

The French courts refused to hand over the wanted person, pointing out a “real risk” that his fundamental rights would be violated. 

The original official texts of those French judgments were presented in evidence by a lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office and a court expert was tasked to compare the originals to their English translation.

When the hearing resumed after a few hours break, the expert reported that “on the whole, it [the translation] was very faithful, save for some typing mistakes, not semantic errors".

There was, however, one significant factor that was subsequently highlighted by the defence. 

'Romanian courts lied'

The judgment of the Romanian court stated the prince was “present” before that court on December 18, 2020. 

“Do you remember where you were on that date,” asked defence lawyer Jason Azzopardi, as the prince briefly took the witness stand. 

“I was in Portugal in front of a Portuguese judge to be declared administrator of my grandfather’s succession,” testified Prince Paul. 

That meant that the Romantian court had “lied” when declaring that the prince was “present” and the EAW was then based on that lie, argued Azzopardi. 

Moreover, the Romanian court was not lawfully constituted. 

The French courts had refused to surrender the prince and a similar “diffusion” request channelled through Interpol, also failed. 

Last year, retention of data about the prince was stated to be not legal because it did not comply with Interpol’s rules and was consequently to be “purged” from Interpol’s system. 

A report by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture within the Council of Europe concluded that the situation in any Romanian prison “is definitely inhuman and degrading treatment”, added Azzopardi, citing a number of cases to support that argument.

Defence lawyer Jose’ Herrera observed further that a court deciding an extradition request is endowed with “special powers” in terms of article 4 of the Framework Decision on European Arrest Warrants.

Such a court has the power to go beyond ordinary legislation and also consider fundamental rights issues.

The court, presided over by Magistrate Leonard Caruana, deferred the case for judgment next week. 

Meanwhile, a separate application for bail was still pending. 

The defence had filed a request at 9.15am on the day before the hearing. But their application reached the Magistrate’s chamber at 3.16pm. 

That delay, attributed by the prince’s lawyers to the courts’ administrative system, was “unacceptable”. 

It meant that the AG had not yet filed a reply about bail by the time the hearing got underway.

The wanted person was “reliable and trustworthy”, had fully cooperated with investigators and could offer a fixed address for bail purposes. 

“If need be he can sign [the bail book] every three hours,” argued Azzopardi, appealing to “justice and humanity”.

“He has been hounded for many years” and was in preventive custody since his arrest last week. 

The court directed the defence to indicate by means of a note a third party who could step in as surety for bail purposes, before deciding upon the matter.

Inspector Roderick Spiteri prosecuted.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Jose’ Herrera, Kris Busietta and Martina Herrera were defence counsel. 

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