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Kross extradition request refused.

From wire reports

TALLINN - Estonian Minister of Justice Kristen Michal stated that Estonia will not extradite its citizens to Russia, and that if Russia wishes to question Eerik-Niiles Kross, a former Estonian intelligence coordinator, such procedures can be carried out through Estonia's Public Prosecutor's Office, reports National Broadcasting.

"Estonia will not extradite its citizens to Russia and Russia is well aware of that fact," said Michal. "One of the principal ideas for the legal aid agreement concluded between Estonia and Russia was that as the two countries do not extradite their citizens to each other, investigative procedures are handed over instead," explained the minister.

He specified that if Russia is interested in the investigation, the bilateral legal aid agreement concluded between Estonia and Russia creates relevant possibilities for it. For example, there is the possibility that the Public Prosecutor's Office can question Kross in Estonia and, thus, the Russian law enforcement authorities would get answers to their questions. Michal noted that as of now, the Public Prosecutor's Office has forwarded to Russia the request to hand over the investigation to Estonia.

Press spokesman of the Ministry of Justice Priit Talv explained that Estonia does not have any powers to interfere with criminal proceedings in the Russian Federation nor to make any procedural decisions concerning those cases. Estonia also cannot contest a decision made in the Russian Federation regarding the issuing of a warrant against an Estonian citizen.

Russia has declared Kross as wanted at the international level. The Archangelsk Oblast Government Investigative Committee reported on its Web site that Kross was declared a wanted person in connection with criminal proceedings that concern the circumstances of the hijacking of the cargo vessel Arctic Sea. Kross is accused of having organized the so-called act of piracy.

At a press conference on Jan. 13, the head of the investigative committee, Yuri Shperling, stated that Kross' guilt is not only "confirmed" by the statements made by the head of the group of pirates who hijacked Arctic Sea, but also by other "evidence," though he wouldn't say what evidence there is.

These statements by the 'guilty' and other evidence would seem to be of rather dubious value in this case. The entire episode is surrounded by mystery and secrecy.

The Arctic Sea went missing in the Atlantic Ocean on July 24, 2009 while supposedly carrying a $2 million shipment of timber from Finland to Algeria, after allegedly being hijacked in the Baltic Sea. It was intercepted by the Russian Navy two weeks later off West Africa, reports rian.

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Arctic Sea, which triggered a major international search effort, gave rise to suspicions the ship was carrying a "secret cargo" of drugs or weapons. The weapons' theory included it possibly carrying Russian missiles headed for Iran, but that Israeli intelligence notified the international community and halted the operation.

The Russian authorities continue to insist that the ship was hijacked by criminals who demanded a ransom.

Shperling said that the Archangelsk authorities have not received any requests from the Estonian Public Prosecutor's Office to hand over the investigation of the Kross case to the Estonian side. He noted that such a request is possible under international law.

On Jan. 10, the Estonian Public Prosecutor's Office announced that it had forwarded to Russia the request to hand over criminal proceedings involving Kross, but that Russia had not responded to it. The office noted that it responded to Russia's legal aid request before Dec. 12 and had forwarded to Kross the summons to appear in Russia in order to be interrogated, but Kross has stated that it would not be possible for him to appear at the Russian law enforcement authorities.

Kross' name has as well not yet been included on the list of internationally wanted people. Kross has also denied the allegation against him.

Estonian State Prosecutor Laura Vaik added that Estonia has not received an official confirmation about Kross being declared internationally wanted. Vaik reiterated that Estonia does not have an obligation to hand Kross over to Russia.

Riigikogu Foreign Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson said that there is a lot of suspicious activity in the Arctic Sea case and that it is a badly put together special operation of Russian special services, where the attempt is being made to make Kross an international suspect and wanted.

What emerges may be less a story clouded by rumors, and one more about Russia targeting Kross all along. Mihkelson said that Russia's interest towards Kross can be connected to Russia's aggression against Georgia in 2008, reports

Mihkelson said the idea of going after Kross could itself be a special operation. "I think it is a fairly flimsy special operation where there is an attempt to make Kross an international suspect and fugitive. The [Russian intelligence service] FSB has been ordered to make it happen."

He speculated that Russia's interest in Kross could have to do with the latter's involvement in Georgia. In 2008, Kross's company, Trustcorp, provided security consultation services to the Georgian government.

This was also sounded in remarks from Urmas Reinsalu, a member of the same party as Kross, IRL. He said Russia has "reason to hate Kross."

"This case seems like a revenge action by Russia, long in the staging. Going after a person through legal channels is logical and consistent considering their traditions of political justice," Reinsalu said.

Whether coincidental or not, Mihkelson said the testimony from the purported ringleader of the hijackers, Dmitri Savins, contains a time link to Russia's invasion of Georgia. Savins claimed Kross had financial problems in August 2008 and decided to organize the pirate operation on the Baltic Sea. That was also the time of Russia's invasion.

One leading theory advanced, both then and now, is that the hijacking served as smoke and mirrors. Perhaps, it is speculated, it was decided to stage the hijacking as a cover-up for a Russian special operation gone wrong. It may now be that it is a convenient tool to use to go after another 'enemy' of the Russian state - Kross.
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Title Annotation:News Estonia
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Geographic Code:4EXES
Date:Jan 18, 2012
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