Noose tightens on British fugitives in Europe | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.09.2012
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Noose tightens on British fugitives in Europe

Spain was once the prime spot for British crooks on the run in Europe, that is until UK authorities began a crackdown on fugitives there. Now Cyprus is the top "safe haven," but for how long?

Nikosia, Hauptstadt von Zypern, September 2012. Copyright: DW/Wladimir Izotow

Zypern Nikosia

It's said in the criminal underworld that if you're on the run from the law, then the tiny Mediterranean island of Cyprus is a fairly comfortable place to lay low.

Sun, sea, nightlife and all of the home comforts such as British supermarkets, newspapers and entertainment have helped to make this a choice location for crooks who want to keep their profiles as low as possible.

But for nine of Britain's "most wanted," the television evening news last week would have made for rather uncomfortable viewing.

Safe haven no more

The long arm of the law has arrived on the island and the British charity Crimestoppers has set up shop here in Nicosia. Along with British police, they have issued a rogues gallery of eight men and one woman, all of whom are thought to be living in expatriate communities throughout the island.

Fotolia Symbolbild Handschellen Festnahme

British fugitives are running out of options in Europe

"It's a charity that provides a service for people that have information about a crime, Lord Ashcroft, founder of Crimestoppers, told DW. "These people may otherwise be reluctant to get involved, and they can telephone our hotline and we guarantee their anonymity. In many cases, this is the only way the police can get hold of such information."

And with more and more Brits moving abroad to places like Spain, France, Portugal and Cyprus, criminals running out of options in their search for a bolt hole are setting up homes amongst large expatriate communities - hoping their past won't catch up with them.

What were once domestic police operations searching for fraudsters, rapists and other criminals, says Lord Ashcroft, have now taken on a larger European dimension.

"This is our third initiative in Europe, we have launched similar campaigns in Spain and the Netherlands. In Spain for example, we've put out appeals for 65 wanted people and 49 of those have now been arrested. So in Spain it's proved a very successful venture."

Close cooperation

Many of those on the wanted list are thought to be residing in the Republic of Cyprus - but some may cross the dividing Green Line into the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which has no extradition treaty with any country other than Turkey.

That's how tycoon Asil Nadir evaded justice for nearly two decades after fleeing Britain to his native northern Cyprus in 1993.

For the head of the Cyprus police force, Michalis Papageorgiou, the Crimestoppers campaign is a perfect demonstration of how European police forces can work together.

Symbolbild Polizei Police

British authorities have set up shop in Nicosia

"My attitude has always been the same - criminals know no boundaries and they don't have any limits concerning the respect of law and order. If we don't work together with each other, then we won't be as efficient, and we are prepared to do anything to make our small island safer."

Crimestoppers is also hoping to profit from the Cypriot public's willingness to keep their island as safe as possible. Mick Laurie, who heads Crimestoppers, says he's banking on tip-offs from the over 800,000 people who now live on the island.

"We can draw from the experience of certain places in Spain where large expatriate communities attracted fugitives. Anonymous tip-offs were the key to many of the arrests that were made there. At the end of the day, the locals in these places do not like the idea of serious criminals living alongside them."

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