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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Mr. Rees is in prison in Frankfurt, in the Federal Republic of Germany. He has been there since November 1986. Before then he was imprisoned in Britain for about two years. Indeed, Mr. Rees has now been in prison for a total of about four out of the last five years--two years in Britain, and almost two and a half years in the Federal Republic. Despite this four-year term of imprisonment, Mr. Rees has not been found guilty of any offence by any court, either here or in the Federal Republic. Not only has he not been found guilty of any offence ; he has not even been tried in open court for any offence.
It was in the south American country of Bolivia that the events, the somewhat bizarre events, that led to Mr. Rees's predicament occurred. In 1974 he went there and married a Bolivian national. He lived in Bolivia and had a business there. On 14 November 1983, in La Paz, the capital, a German national, who was the local manager of the German airline Lufthansa, was kidnapped near his home. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $1 million. The ransom money was subsequently paid, and the German national was released unharmed.
On 13 March 1984 Mr. Rees arrived at Gatwick--on a business trip, I believe --on a flight from the United States of America. He was immediately arrested. Almost a month after his arrest, the Government of the Federal Republic sought his extradition to West Germany, accusing him, I believe, of the crime of detaining, with others, a hostage--the German national, the manager of the Lufthansa office in La Paz, who had been kidnapped.
Four alleged accomplices of Mr. Rees had already been arrested in La Paz by the Bolivian authorities for the same offence. While they were in prison they made a statement to the effect that Mr. Rees had been involved in the kidnapping. The Federal Republic's case for extradition was based almost entirely--not entirely, but almost entirely--upon these statements. Of course, these were affidavit statements read out in the extradition proceedings in London. There was no cross-examination of the individuals concerned, because they were in prison in Bolivia.
Mr. Rees, through his lawyer, Mr. Michael Caplan of Kingsley Napley, challenged the extradition request in the British courts. There were a number of hearings, and the case actually went to the House of Lords on a technicality. I believe that during these proceedings it was learnt that the four alleged accomplices in La Paz had retracted their previous statement and now denied that Mr. Rees was involved in the kidnapping. Eventually, however, Mr. Rees, on the basis of the prima facie evidence presented by the West German authorities, was extradited to the Federal Republic in 1986 and, as I have said, has been imprisoned there ever since.
The House will recall that recently the Home Secretary, in a slightly different situation, got into trouble with the European Court of Human Rights for detaining suspects for seven days. Mr. Rees has not been tried in the Federal Republic of Germany for the offence for which he has been
Column 1107charged. Time and again the West German authorities have adjourned the proceedings. If we count the extradition proceedings, they have had almost five years to build their case against Mr. Rees. That includes the two years in Britain before the extradition and now nearly two and a half years in the Federal Republic of Germany. However, he still has not been tried in open court.
That is a scandalous and shocking abuse of the rule of law and the basic principles of justice--and that in a western democratic country which is one of our NATO allies and a partner in the EEC. My latest information-- perhaps the Minister of State has better information--is that the Germans will apparently again review Mr. Rees' case next April. He has no idea when he will be brought to trial. He may never be brought to trial, and may have to languish in prison for all time.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has a duty to look after and protect the rights of British citizens abroad. He should raise this matter at the highest level with the German authorities. I am not asking the Secretary of State to bring pressure to bear to subvert the course of justice ; I am asking him to bring pressure to bear to ensure that justice is done.
In a strange case of this kind, one inevitably recalls the tribulations of Joseph K in Franz Kafka's great novel "The Trial". No doubt the Minister of State is familiar with that novel. It is gloomy and depressing, but in parts at least there are glimmers of hope for poor Joseph K. An extract from that novel might appeal to the right hon. Lady :
" What is the next step you propose to take in the matter?' asked the priest. I'm going to get more help', said K There are several possibilities I haven't explored yet.' You cast about too much for outside help,' said the priest especially from women. Don't you see that it isn't the right kind of help?' said K Women have great influence. If I could move some women I know to join forces in working for me, I couldn't help winning through Let the Examining Magistrate see a woman in the distance and he almost knocks down his desk in his eagerness' ".
All I ask of Mr. Rees' examining magistrate in Frankfurt--they still have such magistrates there--is that he should without any further delay bring Mr. Rees to trial and present his evidence in open court. If he cannot do that, he should release Alan Rees. I ask the Minister of State and the Government to do their duty and see that that happens.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : I am very grateful to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) for raising this case of the son of a constituent of his. It is in the finest traditions of this place, empty though it may be at this late hour, that we discuss the circumstances of an individual British citizen who is detained overseas.
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, I know about the case of Mr. Alan Rees, and, as the House would expect, I will consider later tonight very carefully exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has said and I shall also ensure that a record of this debate and our contributions to it is made available to the authorities in Bolivia and in the Federal Republic of Germany as soon as possible. The right hon. Gentleman knows me and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office well enough to know that we
Column 1108are concerned that any individual should be held without trial for long periods in any country. However, we must be aware of the law of the countries concerned.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office first became involved with Mr. Rees's case in April 1984, when a formal request for Mr. Rees's extradition for an offence of kidnapping was received from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in London. In accordance with normal practice, that request was passed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for consideration.
The background to the extradition request was that, while in Bolivia, Mr. Rees was alleged to have organised, together with his father-in-law, a Bolivian national, the kidnapping on 14 November 1983 of a Mr. Michael Wurche, the Lufthansa manager in La Paz. A ransom of 1.5 million United States dollars was paid by Mr. Wurche's employers, and he was released in November 1983. Mr. Rees was initially discharged by the United Kingdom courts in respect of the extradition offence because the request was not, at that stage, backed by sufficient evidence. However, the extradition proceedings were recommenced following the receipt of further evidence, resulting in the extradition order being issued.
After making an unsuccessful appeal to the House of Lords for judicial review of his case, Mr. Rees was committed for extradition on 24 October 1986. He was surrrendered to the German authorities on 27 November 1986. Since then, he has been held in custody awaiting trial.
Mr. Denzil Davies : I am sure that the Minister did not mean to imply otherwise, but the House of Lords appeal was not about whether Mr. Rees was guilty of kidnapping. It concerned a difficult legal point regarding extradition law. I believe that the case was lost in the House of Lords by three to two.
Mr. Rees is charged in the current proceedings, in Wiesbaden, with having kidnapped, in company with others in La Paz, Bolivia, on 14 November 1983, Mr. Michael Wurche, with extortion, with carrying arms, with using threats and force against Mr. Wurche, and with having caused others to commit such illegal acts against Mr. Wurche. Mr. Rees, together with his father-in-law, Jose Antonio Anze Jimenez, allegedly planned together to kidnap Michael Wurche, the sales representative and station manager of Lufthansa of La Paz, and to demand a ransom of 1.5 million US dollars, as the hon. Gentleman said. They allegedly acquired the necessary weapons, rented a house to which they planned to bring Mr. Wurche, and persuaded four other Bolivians--Abdon Aguilera Cortez, Carmelo Mario Aguilera Uyeno, Amando Sichori Ticona and Rimundo Richi Herrera--to act as accomplices in their plan.
On 14 November 1983, Mr. Rees and his accomplices allegedly abducted Mr. Wurche under threat from machine pistols and hand guns. On 16 November 1983, Mr. Rees is alleged to have sent a ransom note to the Lufthansa office in La Paz. In that note, Lufthansa was called upon to pay a ransom of 1.5 million United States dollars. It is alleged that, on 24 November 1983, Mr. Rees
Column 1109conducted several telephone conversations with Mr. Wurche's employers, in which he gave the details for handing over the money. The ransom money, a sum of $1.5 million, was delivered as allegedly instructed by Mr. Rees, following which Mr. Wurche was set free in the neighbourhood of La Paz airport on 25 November 1983. On 17 March last year a trial was held in the La Paz superior district court, at which Mr. Rees was sentenced in absentia to 25 years' imprisonment. The charges, which were made on 17 April 1984, were of kidnapping, theft, threatening with a weapon and contempt of court, the latter because of non-appearance. Four Bolivians were accused with Mr. Rees, were convicted and are currently serving terms of imprisonment. The information was, however, confirmed to the Federal German authorities only last month. Mr. Rees and his German lawyer are aware of that development.
The action that we have taken in the Federal Republic is as follows. Our vice-consul in Frankfurt has visited Mr. Rees four times since his arrival in the Federal Republic. On all occasions Mr. Rees has been found to be well, and has volunteered that he understands the reasons for his continued detention. Our vice-consul has also been in regular contact with the public prosecutor in Wiesbaden to register Her Majesty's Government's interest in the case. The right hon. Gentleman was informed, in a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on 12 April last year, that our vice-consul would also contact Mr. Rees's legal representative, whose duty it is to do all that he can within the local judicial process to expedite the trial.
Sadly, a date for the trial cannot be set until the evidence has been provided by the Bolivian witnesses. I understand that there are difficulties owing to their detention and subsequent imprisonment. The public prosecutor in Wiesbaden is still waiting for confirmation of when he and others can attend the hearing of witnesses in Bolivia. The public prosecutor wrote to the embassy of the Federal Republic in La Paz in early January this year asking it to accelerate matters with the Bolivian authorities. He believes that, once he has attended the hearing in Bolivia, a trial in the Federal Republic should follow without delay, and I hope that that is the case.
I said earlier that we must be aware of the various countries concerned in the case. There is no limit on the time for which a person may be held on remand in the Federal Republic, provided that his detention is reviewed at least every three months by a higher court. That has been done in Mr. Rees's case. The last review was by the higher regional court--the Oberlandesgericht--on 9 January, when it was decided that Mr. Rees should remain in custody pending trial. That would bring the next date of hearing- -as the right hon. Gentleman said--to around 9 April this year. We understand that Mr. Rees's German legal adviser believes that, bearing in mind the serious nature of the alleged offence, his client's continued detention is not abnormal.
I well understand the right hon. Gentleman's deep concern about the case, but it is internationally accepted practice that the officials or representatives of one state cannot intervene in the judicial proceedings of another
Column 1110sovereign state. We in the United Kingdom would not tolerate attempted foreign intervention in our judicial system, and I suspect that no other country would welcome it either.
The role of our consular officials is to ensure that a British citizen who has been arrested knows his rights under the local law and knows how to obtain legal representation if he so desires. The consul will try to ensure that a British national is charged and brought to trial without undue delay, that the trial is conducted within the recognised canons of justice, that his alien status is not detrimental, either at a trial or during imprisonment, and that he is subject to the same standards that apply to the nationals of the country in which he was arrested.
It is always our policy that consular visits to prisoners should be made in the light of local conditions and the detainee's circumstances. Our consular officials also try to ensure that a detainee's next of kin is informed of the detention, but only if so requested by the detainee. They also arrange the transfer of funds from friends or family in the United Kingdom for prison comforts and raise any complaints with the proper authorities. We have inquired about this. I am satisfied that Mr. Rees has been receiving proper consular attention, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that this will continue.
The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that United Nations approved minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners were agreed in 1957. I accept that the rules have no binding force, but our consular officials, as a matter of policy, would bring them to the attention of the local authorities if it were seen that the rules were not being observed in respect of a British detainee. I have no hesitation in saying that there is no question of any such failure in the case of Mr. Rees.
There are, of course, limitations on what British consular officials can do. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, they cannot get a national out of gaol, provide a lawyer at the British taxpayers' expense, put up bail, carry out investigations into an alleged crime, or themselves offer legal advice. As the right hon. Gentleman may know, my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State has been leading a campaign to educate the public in this regard, so that nobody shall go abroad without having some knowledge of the consequences of wrongdoing overseas. That campaign will continue, but it is important that people should understand the limitations on what consular officials can do.
This is a very special and, thank goodness, very unusual case. I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman's great concern. As in all such cases, the legal process of the country concerned must take its course. Her Majesty's Government cannot intervene in that legal process. However, I am concerned about the case. Through our consular officials, we shall continue closely to monitor the case and will offer all the assistance to Mr. Rees that we properly can. I sincerely hope that this case will very soon be brought to trial and heard and that the problems that have been encountered in providing evidence will be ironed out. Anything that we can do, although we cannot intervene, will be done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.
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