Financial Gangster’s Paradise

I got busted by the SEC. Where should I flee to?

Where in the world can a criminal be safe from U.S. law?

Financier R. Allen Stanford, who stands accused of defrauding investors of $8 billion, reportedly tried to flee the country last week before the FBI found him in Fredericksburg, Va. What’s the best place for an American fugitive to go?

Russia, Libya, Iran, or one of the other 90-odd countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the United States. The U.S. has signed bilateral treaties with more than 100 countries, from the Bahamasto Israel to Zimbabwe, pledging that a fugitive will be sent back to the country where he committed a crime, plus numerous multilateral agreements promising to cooperate in fighting terrorism and the drug trade. (See a complete list here.) Unfortunately for fugitives, that means most of the developed world is off-limits. If you want to be totally safe, you’ll have to go somewhere no one really wants to be—or that isn’t on friendly terms with Uncle Sam.

You could also head to a country whose extradition treaty is weak or has massive loopholes. Cuba, for example, signed an agreement with the United States in 1926 but, under Fidel Castro, has long served as a haven for American fugitives. (The two countries did make an exception for hijackers after a series of high-profile hijackings in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.) Before 9/11, extradition treaties frequently contained “political offense exceptions,” which said that a host country did not have to return a criminal who would be punished for political reasons—a provision the United States invoked in refusing to return IRA members to Ireland. And to this day, certain countries refuse to extradite someone if they think the criminal will receive the death penalty or otherwise have his human rights violated.

Most extradition treaties have a so-called “dual criminality” rule, which mandates that the crime must be illegal in both states, not just one. That’s why financier Marc Rich fled to Switzerland. The crimes for which he was charged—tax evasion, primarily—are not illegal there, so Switzerland wouldn’t extradite him. In 2007, the United States refused to extradite a man who had participated in an assisted suicide in Ireland. The reason: Not all 50 states have statutes forbidding assisted suicide.

Even without an extradition treaty, it’s possible for the United States to nab a fugitive by kidnapping him—a practice called extraordinary rendition. (The U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1992 that you can stand trial after forcible abduction.) The United States can also send out a “red notice” to all member countries of Interpol—that’s basically everyone—which warns them to arrest the criminal if he or she is caught crossing a border.

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Explainer thanks Michael A. Peil of Washington University, Richard J. Wilson of American University, and Bruce Zagaris of the American Society for International Law.