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Judgment in the case of a Romanian held in pre-trial detention for 14 months

♦ On a hearing held on 2 March, a court pronounced judgment in the case of a Romanian national detained at the Warsaw airport and held in pre-trial detention for 14 months on the basis of Interpol’s red notice, who demanded compensation for his moral and financial losses from Polish criminal justice authorities.

♦ In the judgment, which may still be appealed, the Regional Court in Warsaw ruled that the Romanian had been wrongfully detained and awarded him PLN 126,000 in non-pecuniary damages and PLN 118,000 in pecuniary damages.

♦ The Romanian national is represented pro bono by lawyers of Kancelaria Adwokacka Bogumił Zygmont i Adwokaci, which took on his case on referral from the Helsinki Foundation.

C., a Romanian national, had a long career in international corporations. On 16 August 2017, during a trip to Romania, he was arrested at the Okęcie Airport on the basis of an entry in the database of the International Criminal Police Organisation (“Red Notice”) made by the Qatar authorities, who requested his arrest, provisional detention and extradition. In connection with Interpol’s red notice, on 17 August 2017, the Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw applied for the pre-trial detention of C., arguing that the man was sentenced in May 2015 in Qatar for issuing a false (unfunded) check. On the next day, the Regional Court in Warsaw made a pre-trial detention order against C., whose detention was consistently extended until 4 October 2018. During his first detention hearing, C. said he was not guilty and did not consent to be surrendered to the Qatar authorities. He argued, among other things, that he could not have committed the alleged offence because he had not been to Qatar at the relevant time, which was evidenced by a stamp in his passport certifying his departure from Qatar on 9 March 2015.

C.’s extradition proceedings

On 25 September 2017, the Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw applied to the Regional Court for a decision on the admissibility of C.’s extradition to Qatar. In November 2017, the Regional Court confirmed that the C.’s surrender to the Qatari judicial authorities was legally admissible. However, in February 2018, the Court of Appeal in Warsaw, having examined C.’s interlocutory appeal, reversed the decision of the Regional Court and remanded the case for reconsideration. In April 2018, in the course of the repeated proceedings, the Regional Court requested the Qatari authorities to clarify whether the ruling against C. was final. After more than a month, the Qatari authorities declared that C. received a three-year prison sentence and a fine by virtue of an in absentia judgment, which is subject to appeal. The penalty imposed on the Romanian was therefore not final and was unenforceable.

Despite the content of the Qatari response, the Regional Court once again declared the extradition of C. legally admissible in June 2018. However, on 4 October 2018, the Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled that there were no grounds for accepting a prosecutor’s request to surrender C. to Qatar. The Court of Appeal also revoked the pre-trial detention order made against C., invoking the unenforceability of the Qatari judgment and the human rights situation in Qatar. The court also noted that Poland and Qatar have not signed a treaty that would regulate the procedure and conditions for the surrender of wanted persons and also pointed to the fact that C. was charged with a fiscal offence. On the same day, the Court of Appeal ordered C.’s release from pre-trial detention.

Action for compensation for moral and financial losses

On 3 October 2019, C.’s pro bono lawyers brought an action for compensation for moral and financial losses sustained by their client on account of undoubtedly wrongful pre-trial detention in the period from 16 August 2017 to 4 October 2018. The lawsuit was filed with the Regional Court in Warsaw. C.’s counsel requested the award of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages in the amount of PLN 2,210,464. The above figure includes the compensation for undoubtedly wrongful pre-trial detention and its direct effects such as the lost earnings and weakened position on the labour market (PLN 1,587,964), as well as the amount of non-pecuniary damages for the undoubtedly wrongful pre-trial detention lasting for 415 days (PLN 622,500).

On 2 March 2020, the District Court awarded C. PLN 126,000 in non-pecuniary damages and PLN 118,860 in pecuniary damages. In the verbal reasons for the judgment, the Court held that the amount of non-pecuniary damages should be determined in the way proposed by the Prosecutor’s Office. In the Court’s view, C. did not sustain any above-average moral loss as a result of having been held for 14 months in a detention centre where the living conditions are compliant with Polish laws and regulations.

In turn, the Court calculated the amount of the pecuniary damages assuming that the loss sustained by C. equalled to the sum of the earnings that C. would have obtained but for his detention decreased by the cost of living. With this in mind, the Court arrived at the amount of PLN 118 860.

The judgment is not final, both parties have said they would appeal against it.

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