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Montenegro appellate court blocks Do Kwon’s extradition

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In a significant legal turnaround, the Appellate Court of Montenegro issued a decision on Feb. 7, 2024, overturning the previous ruling of the High Court in Podgorica concerning the extradition of Terraform Labs founder Hyeong Do Kwon.

The court’s decision was announced in a press release published on Feb. 8. The case, marked by international interest from both the Republic of South Korea and the U.S., has been remanded back to the first instance for a retrial and decision.

Violations of criminal procedure

The Appellate Court’s decision came after considering an appeal by Kwon’s defense attorneys against the High Court’s ruling from Dec. 29, 2023.

The High Court had initially found that the legal requirements for Do Kwon’s extradition to South Korea to face prosecution for multiple criminal charges were met. The court had also noted the interest of the U.S. in the matter, with media speculating that he would be sent to the U.S. at the time.

However, the appellate panel identified “significant violations of the provisions of criminal procedure,” specifically citing issues with the clarity, reasoning, and comprehensiveness of the High Court’s decision.

According to the court, the first-instance decision failed to properly adhere to the shortened extradition procedure outlined in Article 29 of the Law on International Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, which empowers the court — not the Minister of Justice — to decide on extradition cases.

Furthermore, the court did not unequivocally determine the sequence in which the requests from South Korea and the U.S. were received. This sequencing is crucial under Article 26 of the same law when the extradition of an individual is sought by multiple countries.

The Appellate Court’s ruling highlights the complex interplay of national and international legal principles, especially in cases involving multiple jurisdictions. The decision to annul the extradition ruling and remand the case for retrial shows the importance of procedural clarity and adherence to legal standards.

Implications

Do Kwon’s case brings to the forefront the intricate nature of international extradition processes, which often involve delicate diplomatic negotiations and the application of diverse legal systems.

Montenegro, a country that has sought to align its legal framework with international standards, particularly in its aspirations for an EU membership, finds itself at the crossroads of significant legal, diplomatic, and ethical considerations.

Extradition treaties and international legal assistance acts are designed to facilitate cooperation between countries in prosecuting criminal offenses while ensuring the protection of individuals’ rights. The balance between fulfilling international obligations and safeguarding individual rights is a perennial challenge in extradition cases.

Historically, extradition cases like Kwon’s have tested the resilience of legal frameworks and the integrity of judicial processes in Montenegro and beyond. They highlight the need for transparency, due process, and adherence to legal standards to maintain public trust in the justice system and international relations.

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