Time for Taiwan to prioritize extradition agreements

As more Taiwanese telecom fraud suspects are sent to China,Taiwan must focus on securing as many extradition treaties as possible

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KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- The extradition of Taiwanese telecom fraud suspects has been back in the news recently and is something that the Taiwanese government needs to come to grips with.

Only last month, Spanish authorities opted to send a group of suspects to Beijing rather than back to Taiwan despite many showing Taiwanese passports and insisting they were Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

The High Court of the Czech Republic has also recently voted to extradite Taiwanese citizens to China.

Both of these countries have bowed to pressure from Communist Chinese authorities to do this, despite the fact that the Taiwanese passport is recognized across the globe and allows visa-free access to both of these countries (unlike the Chinese passport).

It begs the question of how they would react if Spanish criminals in Taiwan were extradited to Portugal or Czech ones to Slovakia?

In actual fact, these cases are far more serious because not only is Communist China a direct enemy of Taiwan but it is a country where human rights are routinely abused and to which no democratic country should really be permitted to extradite anyone, much less the citizens of another nation state.

Of course, we all know that China’s spurious sovereignty claims over Taiwan and the economic power they hold over almost all countries around the world these days are the real reasons behind these extraditions.

All the more reason to praise the government of South Korea which has done the right thing and sent Taiwanese criminals back to Taiwan to face justice.

The South Korean stance continues to be the exception however and as more and more telecom fraud cases are unearthed, a steady stream of Taiwanese nationals continue to be forcibly extradited to a foreign country.

So, what can the Taiwanese government do about it?

Telecom fraud crackdown

Firstly, there needs to be a serious crackdown on the issue of telecom fraud in Taiwan. Along with the dire state of Taiwan’s fishing industry, it is one of the relatively few issues which gives Taiwan a bad name around the world.

Taiwanese citizens have been arrested for telecom fraud in dozens of countries around the world and it is a trend which shows no sign of slowing down.

It is time for the Taiwanese government to crack down hard on this offense. Penalties for those convicted of participating in such a crime should be severe. Those who are found guilty of organizing telecom fraud schemes should face life imprisonment.

Consideration should also be given to creating an information and education program to warn people about the risks of falling victim to and taking part in telecom fraud operations. This educational campaign should be promoted in national and local media as well as in all Taiwanese schools and universities.

It is not just a crime which affects many hundreds of ordinary people who fall victim to it every day, it is a crime which brings shame on Taiwan and damages the country’s good standing around the world. Taiwan needs to show the world that it is taking this matter seriously.

Prioritize extradition agreements

The problem the Taiwanese government has is that these offenses mostly take place in other countries, outside their jurisdiction. It means that while the Taiwanese government can make representations, they are essentially powerless to stop the local authorities from treating arrested culprits as they see fit.

To change this, Taiwan would need to sign an extradition agreement and that is something that has proven difficult.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (MOFA), there are just 12 such agreements in place at the moment. The majority of these are with Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies, with the only other notable country to have an established agreement being South Africa.

The South Korean case, which was apparently based on what UDN described as “tacit understanding of mutual legal assistance” between the two countries, shows that there are some informal agreements also in place. But it is clear that more agreements are badly needed.

Showing the world that telecoms fraud is a crime Taiwan takes seriously would be a good first step towards securing these. But more is needed.

Taiwan has to make improvements to its own criminal justice system first. The case of Zain Dean, a British national who Taiwan seeks to have extradited over Dean's killing of a Taiwanese citizen while drunk-driving, has highlighted one issue; jail conditions.

Zain Dean has consistently appealed against Scottish judges plans to extradite him on the grounds that conditions in Taiwan’s prisons are inhumane. Even an agreement between Scottish and Taiwanese authorities to keep him in special conditions failed to convince Scottish judges and Dean has recently won his appeal against extradition. In doing so, the family of the man he killed in Taiwan will not get to see justice served.

This should emphasize the importance of improving conditions in Taiwanese prisons to reach international standards. Such a move may well prove unpopular with some Taiwanese voters but it is clearly in the long-term interests of Taiwan’s international policies.

Then there is the issue of the death penalty. While no-one advocates execution for telecom fraudsters, the fact that Taiwan continues to persist in keeping the death penalty when just about every civilized, free, and democratic nation has long-since abolished it will always be problematic when negotiating extradition agreements.

Advocates will argue that Communist China executes hundreds of people each year and these countries have no problem extraditing criminals to China. That is true, but China has many other points of leverage in negotiations which Taiwan doesn’t have.

It is undeniable that abolishing the death penalty would make negotiations a lot easier for Taiwan.

With these changes in place, Taiwan would be in a strong position to go to out into the world and negotiate acceptable mutual extradition agreements with other democratic countries.

Protecting Taiwanese citizens abroad is a fundamental responsibility of government. It is time the Taiwanese authorities began to prioritize it and seek to replicate the agreements they already have with South Africa and South Korea, with many other countries around the world.